K. A. Abbas (1914-1987) Carol Slingo from Jump Cut
Saat Hindustani (
Amitabh Bachchan's first film, he plays a role of a Muslim poet (Anwar Ali Anwar), who is 1 of seven, Indian freedom fighters. His character is one of a coward and is a must see for all Amitabh fans. The other cast is also good however the screenplay is slow.
Amitabh shows his ability is an up and coming actor and as a result won The National Award for the most Promising Newcomer. Tinnu Anand was supposed to play one of the seven protagonists in the movie, the director Khwaja Ahmad Abbas decided to cast a newcomer Amitabh Bachchan over Tinnu Anand.
an Eskimo tale
A film with a unique perspective, a droll, near deadpan comedy that attempts to tell a bizarre love story by focusing on a woman who spends a night locking herself in a store freezer, who has surprising change of life issues afterwards, attracted to all things cold, no longer interested in coming home to her suburban husband and two kids, but becomes obsessed with frozen lockers and wanders off, infatuated by a deaf sailor, drawing a picture of love on an iceberg that she hopes he would understand, that becomes the basis for their first love encounter. Within no time at all, she has no use for her family and wants to spend every waking hour with the sailor, hoping he takes her as far north as possible, beautifully expressed through a restless night under the covers, eventually finding just the right iceberg formation with the sheets that matches the image in her mind. The story is told entirely by Jacques Tati sight gags, by brief hit or miss sketches that are occasionally hilarious, other times awful, creating dead space. But it hardly matters, as the characters are appealing and the physical slapstick comedy always works, even when you know ahead of time what’s coming. The pratfalls in this movie are uproariously funny.
This is not like anything playing out in the multiplexes, as it has a style peculiarly its own, led by a group of writers/performers that are trained in pantomime and circus performance, so they excel at exquisite timing. The sad sack husband Julien (Dominique Abel) can’t face seeing her go, as his wife Fiona (Fiona Gordon) takes him to the ends of the world, turning into a road movie on water, pushing to the limits the small lobster boat of René (Philippe Martz) called the Titanique (of course it’s heading for an iceberg). Beforehand, there’s a wild dance sequence, where Fiona’s happiness is expressed in her body language, which is flailing all over the place. There’s a wonderful scene where she’s ecstatically dancing with her sailor man, both are extending the limits of “Rite of Spring” body contortions, where poor René keeps dancing after the music has stopped. But when Julien becomes overjoyed at the thought that he’s bringing his wife back home, she runs off on him, heading back out to sea where he just misses the boat. But not to worry, there are Buster Keaton boat shenanigans out of NAVIGATOR with hugely expressive cloud and sky formations until the inevitable meeting with an iceberg. It’s an uplifting journey, derailed from time to time by poor choices, but always offering enough of a payoff to make this a rare film experience.
If the sight gag is dead, this excruciatingly precious Belgian comedy is less a resurrection than an autopsy. Made by a troupe of actors with a background in pantomime and circus performance, it sounds delightful on paper: a largely wordless absurdist farce about a fast-food manager (Fiona Gordon) who sets sail for chilly adventure with a mute sea captain after she gets locked overnight in a freezer—and her robotic family doesn't notice she's gone. The performers (especially Dominique Abel as the husband, who has a face like pulled taffy) have the right pipe-cleaner look for physical comedy; the gag setups, from a scarf caught in the freezer door to fun with goofy back-projection screens, would have Buster Keaton doing a saber dance on banana peels. But there's nothing eruptive or disruptive about the slapstick: Every color-drenched neat-freak shot is as fussily framed as a New Yorker cartoon—Tati by way of Wes Anderson —and the result packs all the hilarity of a museum installation on The Semiotics of Silent Comedy.
Physical comedy in cinema, at least of recent vintage, so rarely rises above a kind of kick-the-cojones mediocrity (not, mind you, to completely devalue the groin shot—let us all now genuflect before The Simpsons's "George C. Scott in Man Getting Hit by Football"), so the Belgian production L'Iceberg is a more than welcome breath of fresh air. Make that Arctic air, for that's what inspires the impulsive actions of the film's gangly protagonist Fiona (Fiona Gordon, suggesting Tilda Swinton by way of Olive Oyl), who goes off in search of the titular landmass after accidentally locking herself in a walk-in freezer. Something of a stylistic throwback to Jacques Tati's stoic comedies of observation, L'Iceberg truly defies any attempts at encapsulation. Minimal dialogue and copious, often hilarious, rear-projection share space with stunning location footage, through which the film's varied Belgian and French landscapes become gag-filled playgrounds of insight into the human condition. Ostensibly a deadpan examination of bourgeois selfishness, L'Iceberg rather drolly reveals itself—via touchingly amateurish bookends—as an Inuit tribeswoman's (Lucy Tulugarjuk) recollection of how she first met her husband. Writer-directors Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy are clearly on the side of life's outsiders (note the particularly inspired gag at a border check), perfectly willing to play fate's fools so that an ineffable true love can find its fullest, most joyous cinematic expression.
New York Times (registration req'd) Matt Zoller Seitz
This debut feature by the filmmaking team of Dominique Abel,
Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy earns two adjectives that rarely go together:
breezy and bold. The film charts one woman's journey from dronelike suburban
mom and fast-food manager to would-be Arctic explorer. It starts when the
heroine, Fiona (Ms. Gordon), is trapped in a restaurant freezer overnight and
realizes she enjoyed the experience. She subjects herself to increasingly
severe endurance tests and becomes obsessed with images of icebergs, even
carving one in her freezer at home (like Richard Dreyfuss creating
The movie is structured as a series of brazenly metaphoric slapstick tableaus, with little music and less dialogue. Relying on static wide shots that pin the characters to their color-coded environments (a style choice that links the film to the work of Buster Keaton, Jacques Tati, Jim Jarmusch and other deadpan fabulists), "L'Iceberg" treats Fiona's journey as a mythic quest. Its simultaneously silly and grave tone finds humor in the characters' delusions and obsessions while celebrating their uniqueness.
The movie's high point is a scene in which a sleeping Fiona writhes beneath a sheet in her marital bed, her arms and legs jutting out in protoplasmic formations, an image of evolutionary transformation as eerie as the final shot of the Star Child in "2001," and much funnier.
If you’re not familiar with the traditions of clowning and the commedia dell’arte, you might peg the highly stylized, rambunctiously funny Belgian clown odyssey L’Iceberg as avant-garde. On the contrary, it is derrière-garde, like a kick in the derrière. It is to die and go to heaven—or at least the North Pole—for. That’s where its heroine, Fiona (Fiona Gordon), treks after she’s accidentally locked overnight in a walk-in freezer in her fast-food restaurant and emerges with a creeping aversion to her suburban rinky-tink house and suburban-zombie spouse, Julien (Dominique Abel). Drawn back—as if by cosmic force—to the freezer in which her emotional compass was upended, Fiona has a mystical vision of a twin-peaked iceberg. And so begins her journey north, in a refrigerator truck, then a busload of oldsters, and finally the lobster boat of a hangdog, deaf-mute sailor, René (Philippe Martz)—an unstable but very sweet lug who becomes the vessel for Fiona’s romantic obsessions.
The three directors—Abel, Gordon, and Bruno Romy—are prodigious performers, and the movie they’ve cooked up plays like a circusy hallucination on Ibsen’s A Doll’s House addled with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I could throw in Laurel and Hardy and Jacques Tati, but the movie forges its own unique language. L’Iceberg is a procession of tableaux vivants: little proscenium stages, sometimes with rear-projected exteriors, on which enchanting slapstick routines erupt. There’s a giddy interplay of light and color and flabbergasting shapes, like the ovoid mouth of Abel as he yawns—the Munchian scream of yawns. I defy you not to gasp at Gordon’s wordless ballet under a white sheet, legs and limbs shooting every which way until the very image of the iceberg rises up from her bed. Not every sight gag works, and there’s a brief stretch in the middle where the action becomes landlocked. But once we’re out to sea the movie goes swimmingly—its three protagonists fighting, flailing, and often on the verge of drowning as their tiny skiff surges toward the land of the Inuit.
A skinny, freckled redhead, Fiona Gordon looks a little like Carol Burnett stretched out, and she has a similar dedication to her character’s lapses in sanity. Watch her ecstatic frug on the mud flats at low tide and marvel at those long, loose limbs, at the most lyrical spasticity in modern movies.
The heroine of L’Iceberg spends
the night in a walk-in freezer and lives to see the morning.
Impossible? Well, severe hypothermia doesn’t set in until the body’s core
temperature falls to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and she does take some protective
measures. And arguably, stranger things have happened to people—and
animals—trapped in cold places. An
This is the kind of film you’d like to adore, as it has a unique appeal all of its own, almost entirely wordless with continual sight gags. But for all its silent film originality, it doesn’t entirely work as there’s a great deal of repetition and some of the material is funnier and more provocative than other parts, making it difficult to string it all together into one cohesive whole without much of a storyline. While in the throes of marital bliss, Dom and Fiona (the directors using their real names) adore Latin ballroom dancing, emblematic of their love for one another, and can be seen performing a wild rhumba all decorated in a candy colored pastiche. Much of this resembles cartoonist Jules Feiffer’s liberating depiction of “A Dance to Spring,” where Fiona especially has a way of contorting her entire body like she’s an elastic woman. Dominique is more of a deadpan, and something of a sad sap, reminding me sometimes of John Cleese without a voice, always a little bit uncomfortable, as if restricted within the confines his own body. From the outset, both teach elementary kids at the same school until, as fate would have it, tragedy occurs on the heels of their greatest success. In perhaps the funniest sequence in the film, certainly one of the darkest, Gerard (Philippe Martz) stands on the railroad tracks, suicide note in hand, ready to end his life. But as he stands alone on a tressel waiting for a train, all he can hear is a continual parade of cars passing by just below. So he hikes down a hill, puts his possessions aside, leaving his note on top, and awaits the next car. Of course, next thing he hears is a train whistle which whizzes by just before he has a chance to get back on the tracks. I find this kind of bleak tragedy to be utterly hilarious, as it’s a comment on the human condition when a man is such a failure that he can’t even succeed in killing himself. Instead, Dom and Fiona drive into a bridge attempting to avoid Gerard standing mysteriously in the middle of the road after dark.
She ends up in traction, all but her face and right toes covered in a plaster cast, while he suffers from amnesia and can’t remember anything. She’s delighted to see him, while he can’t remember who she is, beautifully expressed in a wonderfully drawn out scene where he asks if she’d like some coffee, but then gets confused, as he searches the premises of his hospital room and can’t find any, only to turn around and get startled at this mysterious stranger standing there, asking again if she’d like some coffee, a scene that repeats itself three or four times. They return to school, but they’re not themselves, as Fiona in particular reverts to slapstick physical comedy as she attempts to manage two crutches, her notebook, and a chair before taking one giant pratfall. Horrible things continue to happen to them, until out of nowhere, they sing a duet together, an oddly optimistic fireside camp rendition of Phil Phillips’s 1959 hit “Sea of Love,” before things degenerate even further, as all manner of mayhem follows, with little odd moments that are peculiarly funny. Dom gets lost and can’t remember where he lives, so he ends up at the beach, taking a turn into an oddly perverted tribute to Jacques Tati’s MONSIEUR HULOT’S HOLIDAY (1953). One of the most charming aspects of the film are the cheesy backdrops, seen in the windows of a car as the 1950’s looking production values become the highlight of the scene, also a little hut on the beach with a single window facing the ocean, which makes it look like they’re in the ocean, not near it. While the use of romantic Latin ballads oddly juxtaposed against a peculiar real life setting has been used to perfection before by the likes of Wong Kar-wai in nearly every film, or Tsai Ming-liang who literally toys with the concept in THE HOLE (1998), what this group does with fiery love ballads by Benny Moré or Pérez Prado is counter the romantic grandiosity with something altogether miniscule, yet still utterly rewarding. There are plenty of ups and downs here, where several of the bits go on too long or lose what’s funny about it, but overall the wacky tone is upbeat and life affirming.
"Sea of love"
Written by P. Baptiste and George Khoury
Performed by Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon
Copyright by Fort Knox Music Inc/Trio Music Inc. Peermusic (Belgium)
Courtesy of Mk2 and Courage Mon amour
Written ny C. Brito
Performed by Blanca Rosa Gil
Copyright by P.H.A.M.-Paramusic (
Courtesy of Egrem
NewCity Chicago Ray Pride
The directing-performing team behind “L’iceberg,” Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, return with deadpan dance comedy “Rumba,” which resembles Jarmusch or Kaurismaki, but with a tart, absurdist Belgian bent. The duo plays schoolteachers fascinated by Latin dance. Despite resemblances and parallels, minimalist comedy has a different affect depending on the culture; their Tati-esque distortions of the human form have a bite that still seems uniquely their own, especially when things turn black and blacker: complications of a car crash lead to a lost leg and amnesia, among other things. It’s the most inventive tragedy of the year! The fiery color palette is a rush all on its own. 77m.
RUMBA Facets Multi Media
Through a series of surreal jokes, a couple turns tragic accidents into a deadpan comedy routine. Elementary school teachers by day, Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon (co-writers/directors going by their real first names) are trophy winning tango dancers at night. They celebrate life in every way they can, mostly in dance and loving each other, but after returning from the rumba competition that they have won, their dancing careers are cut short by a car accident leaving both of them seriously injured. Their future as a couple is threatened and then one wonders if they ever be able to get back on their dancing feet again. However, this near-silent comedy proves that optimism and love can overcome the most serious obstacles, using music, creativity, and great comedic storytelling with originality and flare. Directed by Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Remy, Belgium/France, 2008, 35mm, 77 mins. In French with English subtitles.
Chicago Reader JR Jones
Whimsical and candy-colored, this French-Belgian comedy may immediately call to mind Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie (2001), but its stylized two-dimensionality--symmetrical compositions, geometric slapstick, characters flattened out like paper dolls--is more directly influenced by Buster Keaton's surreal silent shorts. Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, graceful and goofy physical performers, play an ardent married couple who spend their days teaching grade school and their nights tearing it up at Latin dance competitions, until an auto accident costs her a leg and him his short-term memory. The story plays out with an absolute minimum of dialogue, and the visual gags are highly inventive. In a comedy market dominated by crudity, sarcasm, and smug pop-culture references, laughs this pure hit like lightning. Abel directed. In French with subtitles. 74 min.
Little White Lies magazine Laurene Boyce
In an age when cinema has become increasingly homogenised, it’s a rare thing indeed to find a film that feels quite unlike anything that has come before. While Rumba certainly displays a number of influences – from the physical comedy of Jacques Tati to the colourful aesthetic of Amélie – it is a wonderfully strange and unique movie that inhabits a little world of its own.
The film’s principle directors, Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, take the lead roles as two teachers at a country school who harbour a deep love for each other and for Latin dance. Champions on the dance circuit, their existence is close to perfection. But after crashing their car in an attempt to avoid a suicidal pedestrian, their lives take a turn for the worse. Before long, cruel fate and the machinations of an unjust universe have unravelled the world in which they live. Will they ever re-discover paradise?
Rumba throws the audience into a universe in which dialogue is, by and large, redundant. This is a film that celebrates the joy of physicality, from the central characters’ love of dance to innumerable set pieces that are a joy to behold. One scene in particular, in which the protagonists change into their dancing gear while still driving their car, stands alongside some of the best physical comedy seen in the cinema for quite some time. And yet, in amongst the tone of optimism and wonderment that permeates the film, there’s a deliciously dark edge to proceedings that stops it drowning in mawkishness and sentimentality.
There is also something profoundly affecting about its personal nature. The fact that Abel and Gordon (a real life couple) play characters named Fiona and Dom suggests a real connection to the material that adds an extra level of fascination.
The cinematography is also top-notch, with a riot of colours that slowly turns darker as the situation for our heroes becomes grimmer. Indeed, it’s easy to forget that the cinema is primarily a visual language in which the simplest glance can convey a whole world of emotions. From the moments of bravura comedy to the tightly plotted series of coincidences, Rumba is a reminder just how powerful a medium it can be.
Guardian UK Peter Bradhsaw
Strictly Jacques Tati is the order of the day for this engaging, gentle and lovable film about a married couple who live for ballroom dancing. It really does grow on you. Rumba is created by three writer-performers, Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel and Bruno Romy, who have worked a good deal in the theatre, and produced some short films. This is their feature debut, and it's certainly a change of pace. In the movie marketplace, comedy seems often driven by cynicism and gouging the audience for laughs. Edgy prankster-humorists are out to elicit some pleasurably scandalised gasps of shock; the Apatow generation shrewdly spoon a little sentiment into the mix and the romcom production line churns out films that are all rom and no com – and not much genuine rom, either. But this film is different: it harks back to silent and semi-silent genres with a quieter comic style, and it isn't all about irony and alienation, but rather sympathetic assent.
Gordon and Abel play Fiona and Dom, a married teacher-couple who are much loved by their pupils but live for the Latin American ballroom competitions that they rule in the evenings and weekends with their passionate rumba. There is a nice, relaxed sight gag about the end of a school day: jubilant, cheering kids run in a seemingly endless line out of the exit doors, followed by a short pause, and then a shorter line of grown-up teachers follows them, cheering in exactly the same way. Fiona and Dom have more to cheer about than most.
But driving home one night from a typical trophy-winning success they encounter a dorky depressive, played by Martz, who is attempting, incompetently, to take his own life. His appearance brings about a catastrophe that causes their lives and relationship to unravel. But finally, through a series of wacky coincidences – existential pratfalls of fate – they are to be reunited, though a visual joke concerning a rubber ring at the end of the final credits shows that the incorrigibly idiotic Martz is still addicted to unsuccessful attempts at topping himself.
The general silent-movie-comedy style, together with a couple of specific allusions to Mr Hulot's Holiday, summon up the spirit of Tati, and these players are not embarrassed in his company. Cleverly, Gordon and Abel enact a broken choreography of happenstance: an absurd and chaotic dance of fate the characters are forced to undergo when a chance disaster disrupts their happy marital two-step. You will need to be a little patient and indulgent with this brand of comedy, but its sweetness of nature will win you round. Other comics of the post-Borat/Brüno generation may be going for in-your-face gags, but Abel, Gordon and Romy are trying to get out of your face – and into your heart.
DVD Times Noel Megahey
Rumba Lisa Nesselson at Cannes from Screendaily
Interview with Abel/Gordon Interview by Dimitra Bouras and J-M. Vlaeminckx from Cineuropa September 8, 2008
The Hollywood Reporter review Bernard Besserglik
Variety Jordan Mintzer
TimeOut Chicago Hank Sartin
In their third feature, gifted physical comedians Abel, Gordon and Romy gracefully build on their distinctive brand of burlesque humour. They have also been building an audience base, and The Fairy (La Fee) - which opened Director’s Fortnight - is unlikely to buckle that trend with its Chaplain-esque interludes set in an off-kilter, colour-drenched Le Havre.
Theirs is an old-fashioned, almost silent, routine (their first feature L’Iceberg was virtually wordless) blended beautifully with an arresting dance element. With their angular, exaggerated features, Brussels-based Gordon, Abel and Romy are akin to a circus clown troupe, vaudevillians who sprinkle the big screen with their art and unique aesthetic. The Fairy is not for everyone, but most people who try it should like it.
As with 2008’s Rumba, Gordon and Abel play Fiona and Dom. This time, they haven’t met yet. He’s a night porter at a run-down hotel; she’s a self-proclaimed fairy in a dirty tracksuit who rescues him from choking on a ketchup top in some particularly broad comic scenes. An Englishman (Martz) also checks into the same hotel with a dog hidden in his bag.
The Fairy soon ups the ante, with Fiona stealing some clothes and shoes from local shops for her date with Dom; the first of the film’s many amusing fixed-camera chases with the police ensues. Eventually they meet at the Love Is Blurred bar (L’Amour Flou), where they encounter its almost-blind manager (Romy). They fall in love, of course, in a dance sequence set underwater; the effects are worthy of a bathtub, but the performance itself is mesmerising.
By this time, the audience is completely on-side, and when Fiona
becomes pregnant their antics scale up a notch further, culminating in a
sequence worthy of the best of Tati or Keaton with a bar full of female rugby
players and a mad dash after a baby stuck on the bonnet of a car which is being
driven by a blind man with three illegal aliens in the boot. Only in
Rumba, which played out in the Quinzaine, notched over
100,000 admissions in
As they already revealed in their previous features, Iceberg and Rumba (which played the 2008 Critics’ Week), the team applies an old school approach to their light-hearted comic scenarios, lining up a series of slapstick episodes that hark back to the silent film era, and could justifiably work without any sound at all. While dialogue is sparingly and often cleverly used, music however plays an important role by allowing these acrobatic performers to engage in a handful of graceful dance sequences that serve as brief intermissions to the action.
Set in the gloomy port city of Le Havre, the film kicks off with
its most successfully extended number when we’re introduced to a hotel night
clerk, Dom (Abel), who’s pleasant soiree in front of the TV is interrupted with
the arrival of an English tourist (Philippe Martz), and then of a
svelte, shoeless woman (Gordon), who claims she’s a fairy and grants Dom three
wishes. Like any self-respecting Frenchman living outside of
Thus begins a series of skillfully executed, increasingly
irreverent bits which accompany Dom and the fairy as they try to reunite, and
in the process cross paths with African immigrants (Vladimir Zorano, Wilson
Goma) attempting to hop the ferry to
Though some of the gags fall short, and the story slows down about midway through, there’s enough ingenuity in the filmmakers’ approach to keep one guessing as to what will be the next brunt of the joke: a pen, a puppy, even a newborn baby are all up for grabs, and it’s encouraging to find humor that can be rowdy without dropping f-bombs or tossing out pairs of panties (which isn’t to say that the two are afraid to perform in the nude, or to simulate both a drug overdose and a live birth on the ledge of a four-story building.)
Tati’s hand is evident in the exceptionally precise art direction and camerawork by regulars Nicholas Girault and Claire Childeric, which allows each joke to build itself through repetition and the addition of unexpected elements. The retro attitude is further apparent in the recurrence of jazz standard “What a Difference a Day Makes,” as well as the use of rear projection in a road chase that may shock some in its all-out recklessness.
Ireland (83 mi) 2004 Official site
Mordantly funny and unexpectedly poignant, Lenny Abrahamson’s Dublin-set debut feature about two hapless junkies in search of a fix benefits greatly from his confident, low-key direction. There is some nicely judged acting, too, from Tom Murphy and Mark O’Halloran, the latter of whom wrote the script. Waking on an abandoned mattress in the middle of nowhere, the titular pair start their tragic-comic, city-wide search for the elusive, Godot-like ‘what’s-his-name’. Fusing the slapstick comedy and verbal misunderstandings of Laurel and Hardy with the bleak absurdities of Samuel Beckett is a tall order, but the film’s subtle modulations and unforced humour never lose sight of the pair’s last scraps of humanity. This is particularly hard to pull off, since Adam (O’Halloran) and Paul (Murphy) are so innately unsympathetic. Their inept attempts at thievery are played for laughs, as are Paul’s multiplying physical injuries, and their spiky conversation with a Bulgarian also down on his luck (‘I had to leave Sofia.’/‘Was she pregnant?’). These comic scenes, though, are contrasted with interludes of quiet tenderness, squirm-inducing awkwardness and alienating amorality. We learn, for example, that Adam and Paul have been too selfishly preoccupied with their drug habit to mourn the recent death of a childhood friend. Even more shocking is the desperate duo’s callous robbing of a vulnerable young lad with Down’s Syndrome. What might have been an indulgent or evasive comedy about two likeable but damaged drug addicts is saved by its unflinching honesty. And what looks like a fairytale ending turns credibly dark, cutting to the cruel heart of Adam and Paul’s squalid junkie existence.
EyeForFilm.co.uk Angus Wolfe Murray
There are films that make you dance and films that make you sing. There are also films that make you want to kill yourself. Adam & Paul is one of these. If this review peters out in a jumble of negative phrases, you know what to do - call the ambulance.
Adam and Paul are known as "the tall one" and "the short one." Names are as irrelevant as hope, love, creativity, warmth and the sound of laughter. This is Ireland, Dublin possibly, a rainy city, where violence on the estates is endemic and petty crime the closest anyone is going to get to God's mercy. Survival for the dispossessed and the vagrants requires imagination and luck. "The tall one" and "the short one" have neither.
They drift aimlessly from one place to another, suffering the humiliation of rejection, occasionally encountering the generosity of strangers (a fag, a can of lager). "The short one" is a whiner and "the tall one" practically mute. They have no charm, charisma or interest. They are lost souls who can barely articulate their despair. Watching them is like watching slugs in slurry.
This film has been compared to Samuel Beckett. PERLEEEASE..!! There is poetry and humour in the works of Godot's man. There is nothing of the kind here, only bleakness and more bleakness and the promise of bleakness to come. Even the cinematography is bleak, rinsed colour, a rough video quality, half blurred images, darkened by the stain of blood.
Things move on, but because you don't care, it doesn't matter. Emotions dry up like overcooked semolina and the heartbeat slows. When final credits roll and the lights come up, you feel like a hedgehog awakening from a long winter.
What to say about the performances? Naturalistic is a word that covers it. Bravery, perhaps, because no actor wants to portray null, let alone void. The director (Lenny Abrahamson) and writer (Mark O'Halloran), who happens to be "the tall one," deserve to be congratulated for not compromising and for having the courage of their convictions. It doesn't make the film any easier on the eye.
When Mike Leigh made Naked in 1993, his protagonist (David Thewlis) had a passion and an anger that howled against the filth of his existence. These stumbling derelicts do not have the energy to wipe rat's faeces off their shoes.
There’s something of Laurel & Hardy about Adam & Paul (Mark O’Halloran and the late Tom Murphy), a couple of hopeless Dublin heroin addicts whose entire lives are centred around finding enough money to buy their next fix. In fact, Murphy even appears to be doing a Stan Laurel impression as he sits on a bench listlessly munching on a pilfered baguette, and the slapstick elements of the story echo those of the vintage duo. But Adam & Paul are the flipside of Laurel & Hardy, the dark realism of a fanciful illusion; they’re pitiful ghosts, haunting the run-down council estates and the shiny tourist attractions of modern-day Dublin. They’re pathetic but likeable, and they humanise those sadly familiar figures found in every city.
The film is untroubled by a plot, following, instead, the aimless wanderings of the eponymous characters. Adam awakens from a night sleeping rough on a mattress to discover that some joker has glued his trousers and jacket to it. Once Paul has freed him, they immediately go in search of drugs, only to be chased out of a high-rise flat by the pusher they’re trying to score from. They come across a friend playing football in the park with his son, and then a group of friends who are less than thrilled to see
them. Adam & Paul are a considerable number of rungs further down the ladder than their friends, but there’s a hopelessness about them all, a sense of demons taking over all their lives. A picnic in the park for them consists of drinking cheap beer and smoking joints while the kids play football.
The film Adam & Paul continues in this vein for its relatively brief running time (around 82 minutes). The bleakness of its storyline and the environment in which it takes place is leavened by moments of unexpected humour. Paul suffers a number of physical mishaps throughout the day, and the pair of them have an encounter with a truculent Romanian. They then have a run-in with a thug who mistakenly believes they’re spreading the word around the City that he owes them money, which ends in an almost farcical situation when he press-gangs them into acting as lookouts while he and his mate trash a service station shop. Inevitably, some episodes are stronger than others – their attempt to sell a stolen television is particularly weak - but the scenes that work are particularly well handled. The duo’s attempted mugging of a mentally challenged youth is played low-key but it’s like a slap in the face to an audience that might have slowly found itself slowly warming towards the wretched duo. And then their tender handling of a young babe shows an altogether more palatable and sensitive side to their nature.
The Spinning Image Jason Cook
Adam & Paul | Variety Eddie Cockrell
BBCi - Films Jamie Russell
Vitor Pinto from Cineuropa
Funny, moving and tragic, Garage,
the second feature collaboration between director Lenny Abrahamson and
scriptwriter Mark O'Holloran – after the award-winning Adam
& Paul (see news)
– was rumoured to be one of
Garage tells the story of Josie, a lonely man who looks after a dilapidated petrol station in the Irish mid-west. Despite his lack of success with women and being seen by the rest of the locals as being just another harmless nobody, Josie is nevertheless optimistic. His life will suddenly gain some colour when the teenage David comes to work with him during summer holidays.
The film takes us on a poignant journey, beginning with a glimpse of the locals’ tolerant attitude towards Josie, followed by the character's cheerful transformation as he wanders around with teenagers having beers with them. Actor Pat Shortt gives Josie an incredibly large human dimension, keeping his performance deliberately away from easy stereotypes and judgemental satire.
"What attracted me to the role was his simplicity. I knew it was very different to what had been done before about a character in a rural community," said Shorrt. "But bringing such a character to life was difficult. I was constantly trying to pull it back. In many ways the character is like the ones I write myself, but the comedy is much, much quieter, and the tragedy louder".
More than a portrait of loneliness, Garage also opens a subtle reflection on the role small communities play in people's behaviour. "This is a film about the transformations in rural
Garage is an Element Pictures production for the Irish Film Board, Film4, RTÉ and the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. International sales are managed by Paris-based MK2.
Garage Peter Brunette from Screendaily
Calling Garage a "small" film would be true enough, but the Hope diamond, all things considered, is awfully small as well. Both, in any case, are gems.
The second feature of director Lenny Abrahamson, following his well-received debut film Adam & Paul, which won a slew of awards in the UK in 2005, Garage is an ultra-minimalist drama about a sweet and gentle man named Josie (Shortt) who works in a garage in rural Ireland and is treated, sometimes affectionately and sometimes brutally, as the village idiot by all and sundry.
A beatific smile plastered permanently on his face, the large but simple-minded Josie is taken advantage of by his boss, who gets him to work extra hours for no extra pay, and made fun of by his low-life chums in the local pub. When he befriends a new part-time helper at the garage, the 15-year-old David (Ryan), Josie is delighted to have a new drinking companion and fellow porn-watcher, not understanding that the rules of the grown-up world don't permit this kind of relationship.
By conventional standards, the film is quite slow, and won't be to everyone's liking. More patient viewers, however, will appreciate the brilliance of director Abrahamson and screenwriter Mark O'Halloran's calibration of the tiny ticks by means of which the slight story slowly and almost invisibly turns from comedy to tragedy, taking us emotionally along with it.
A great deal of the credit must also be given to actor Pat Shortt who manages to keep our sympathy, interest and identification throughout, while rarely altering expression. In one painful scene, an old friend tries to tell Josie how much pain he is suffering from ill health, but Josie doesn't understand and keeps returning the conversation to the safe exchange of cliches.
The comic timing of the first two thirds of the film, on the part of both actor and director, is impeccable, and every once in a while Abrahamson treats us to a bit of slapstick - as when Josie laboriously gathers up a bunch of empty beer cans, then, finding no receptacle to place them in, throws them all back into the high weeds. This allows us a moment of laughter to keep our focus sharp, yet never belittles the character.
The director and screenwriter are also good at planting little ideas, such as the drowning of some unwanted puppies early on the film, which set up emotional moments that will occur much later. Abrahamson also knows when to lay on the poetry - always in discreet helpings - as with the horse that Josie feeds several times and who appears again at the very end. Many scenes, maybe most of them, seem to be about little more than two people sitting next to each other, staring straight out and saying nothing. Yet they carry an understated resonance that combines with the gorgeous but equally understated cinematography to supply us with a lot more than at first glance meets the eye or the heart.
DVD Times Noel Megahey
EyeForFilm.co.uk Jennie Kermode
Garage | review, synopsis, book tickets ... - Time Out Wally Hammond
BBCi - Films Stella Papamichael
Great Britain Ireland (95 mi) 2014 ‘Scope Official Site
One of the more unconventional films dealing with outsider art, a social reality outside the comprehension of most viewers, where the character Frank, Michael Fassbender in a giant cartoon, papier-mâché head that he never takes off, is the leader of a small, almost exclusively unseen and unheard of rock band called the Soronprfbs, a name even the group itself can’t pronounce. While they are the picture of dysfunction, playing a style of music that defies definition or form, perhaps noise to some, they are a band where the anti-social behavior habits are curiously intriguing, featuring Clara, the ever dour and always angry Maggie Gyllenhaal (outstanding, literally carrying the picture with her resolute defiance) in the Yoko Ono role as the outrageously extreme Theremin and synthesizer player, two French-speaking bohemians (François Civil and Carla Azar) on bass and drums that refuse to even speak most of the time, and the artistic master Frank as the lead singer, a man they all seem to worship, where the demented humor is so off-the-wall that it’s easily one of the funniest films of the year. Jon Burroughs, Domhnall Gleeson, son of actor Brendon Gleason and one-half of the Weasley twins from HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS Pt’s I and II (2010, 11), is a more ordinary kid stuck in a small town in Ireland with ambitions to write songs and play in a rock band. Purely by chance, Jon happens to be at the beach one day when the keyboard player for the band is seen knee deep in the water supposedly trying to commit suicide, with the police and paramedics on the scene fishing him out of the water. When the band’s manager and guitar player Don (Scoot McNairy) expresses remorse that they’ve lost a keyboard player, Jon almost instinctively exclaims he’s a keyboard player. Don walks to a nearby van and confers with the other members of the band before returning, asking, “You play C, F, and G?” Nodding happily, Don invites him to show up for a performance later that night. The intersection of Jon’s mediocrity and the group’s outright weirdness becomes the focal point of the film, where Jon becomes our man-on-the-scene narrator offering insight into Frank and Soronprfbs, while also exploring hero worship through a somewhat surreal, musical groupie mindset of Cameron Crowe’s ALMOST FAMOUS (2000). The film’s premise borrows from a similar cartoon-headed character of Frank Sidebottom, the stage persona of English musician and comedian Chris Sievey who appeared on British television throughout the 80’s and 90’s, passing away in 2010. The film is dedicated to Sievey, using his image as Frank, so to speak, while taking off from there into unforeseen territory.
A decade ago this
director made his debut with ADAM & PAUL (2004), a likeable losers buddy
movie following two down-and-out heroin addicts around the streets of Dublin as
they drift aimlessly from fix to fix, suffering the humiliation of rejection
wherever they go, yet told in a hilarious and heartbreakingly realistic manner,
so Abrahamson is familiar with characters on the outer fringe of society. The writing team of Peter Straughan and Jon
Ronson deserve much of the credit for creating such a uniquely original look
inside the world of outsider artists, where Ronson based the film on his own
experiences playing keyboards for Chris Sievey’s Oh Blimey Big Band, using
Gleeson as a stand-in for his own real life character, adding elements of Daniel
Johnston, who’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and
also Captain Beefheart, whose own band eventually quit
on him due to his abusive conditions, but who also suffered from multiple
sclerosis during his career. From the
first show, however, it’s clear the band has hostility issues, (“Stay away from
my fucking Theremin!”) so when they explode in a fury of anger onstage, with
Clara breaking her instrument and throwing it at her other band mates, all
leaving the stage in an explosion of rage and confusion, Jon is left
appropriately stunned as they drive off in their van afterwards without a
word. But when Don invites him to join
the band, telling him Frank thought he brought something “cherishable” to the
group, Jon jumps at the chance, though what he apparently thought would be a
weekend performance turns into an eighteen month long retreat into seclusion at
a private estate in
As it turns out, Frank is the heart and soul of the band, leading them all to their “farthest corners,” where everyone is in awe of him, refusing to record a single note until the entire album is ready, as instead he puts the group through rigorous exercises which always seem to evolve into fights, where “Chinchilla!” is their chosen safety word, though routinely ignored. Don, we learn, has his own issues, as he has a history of doll fetishism, where the relationship that he prefers most is with mannequins, as otherwise women have to lie completely still. Having met in a mental institution, Don thinks Frank is the sanest guy he’s ever met, believing they all want to emulate him, but there can only be one Frank. When an irate German family arrives to their retreat, where Don acknowledges they’ve spent all the rent money and were supposed to be out a month ago, Frank goes out to speak to them in fluent German, not only calming them down, but as they leave voluntarily, one of them is thanking him for “this new truth in my soul.” Jon’s dabbling on social media, however, eventually accumulates an audience with 23,000 hits on one of the videos he posted, so he secretly signs the group up for the SXSW music festival in Austin, informing Frank that they have an “audience.” While Frank appears tempted by the idea of getting his music in front of an actual audience, composing what he calls his most “likeable” song, Frank 2014 - Frank's most likable song ever YouTube (30 sec), the rest of the band has no interest in money or fame, finding it a meaningless diversion which has nothing to due with their true calling—making art—seeing it more as a sell out, the worst kind of bourgeois capitulation. Shooting the scenes in America in New Mexico and the mountainous plains of Kansas as a substitute for Austin, Texas, Jon leads the band to the Mecca and supposed promised land of indie music, where the film is an outrageous comedy of defied expectations, becoming something more than theater of the absurd, where Jon’s push for stardom and public interest has a detrimental effect on the others who want no part of this publicity stunt, as they could care less about pandering to an audience, eventually having some serious things to say about mental illness, where we find ourselves asking, “How crazy is Frank?” Instead of this thunderous rush of SXSW Mardi Gras excitement, it’s a plunge into a downbeat, Lynchian netherworld reminiscent of BLUE VELVET (1986) with Maggie Gyllenhaal reprising the Isabella Rossellini role onstage, singing a moody, super slow-motion version of “On Top of Old Smoky” in some empty dive bar to drunks and derelicts that couldn’t be farther away from where Jon wanted to take them, while Frank, without the controlling help of Clara, veers totally out of control, and only then does Jon finally realize he doesn’t “get it.” It’s a look behind and under the mask, told without any fanfare, quietly probing under the surface at the real anguish and pain that drives some of these troubled artists, who are overcome by an assault of mangled nerves and psychoses, where an audience finds entertainment in the performance of their inner turmoil, unleashed as it is in a stream-of-conscience barrage (“Screeching frequencies of pulsing infinity!”) of wounded psychedelic images that resemble the crazed inner ramblings of Alan Ginsberg’s Howl, leaving the audience transfixed in a haunted state of bewilderment.
Expectation is no small influence on the moviegoing experience, and perhaps it works in Frank‘s favor that it sounds, going in, so insufferable: the story of a bizarre band making peculiar music under the guidance of the titular frontman, who never removes his giant plastic mascot head. But tone is key, and Frank isn’t overly enamored with its own hipness; it’s a little daft and a lot of fun, with a well-proportioned dusting of serious undertones. Michael Fassbender gives an inspired physical and vocal performance as the guy under the fake head, while Maggie Gyllenhaal is wonderfully brittle and more than a little broken. Endearingly deadpan and approachably absurd, it’s a weird, bighearted treat.
There are just too many things that have inspired and influenced Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank so I won’t even begin to go into them. But I will say this: this is not the biography of either Frank Sidebottom or Chris Sievey, although both have had an impact on the film in different ways. When Jon, a slave to the nine-to-five, gets the chance to play keyboard for a band whose name is unpronounceable he jumps at the opportunity. An aspiring musician who can’t get his songs to come out “not shit”, Jon eventually finds himself in a cabin with the band, recording their next album. What Jon believed to be a weekend trip to Scotland for a gig turns into eleven months of soul searching, music making, madness, genius and chaos.
The film is narrated by Jon and his twitter updates. The film centres on Jon for the most part, although it is Frank who we really want to know. The band is made up of a sulky French guitarist, and an equally moody French female drummer, a terrifying and twisted theremin and synthesiser player and Frank, the lead vocalist. Frank is the heart and soul of the band; the leader and the brains of the operation. It just so happens that these brains are hidden beneath a large paper-mache head. Nobody has seen what Frank looks like and what appears even more concerning than this is the fact that, apart from Jon, nobody else seems to want to.
Ten years ago, Lenny Abrahamson made his debut with Adam and Paul - a hilarious and heart-breaking story that followed two heroin addicts around Dublin as they attempt to make money, get a fix and cling to the edges of society. It has been suggested by much greater critics than I that Frank is also presenting such characters; individuals unable to fit in or be understood within the cultural norms.
Jon initially holds the story together, being perhaps the only recognisably “ordinary” character – or at least at first. As the film progresses, the lines grow blurrier. Is Frank a genius or just another victim of poor mental health? You’ll think you know at first but you’ll be questioning your own understanding of this film at around the forty-five minute mark. Frank is made brilliant by its actors. Domhnall Gleeson is surprisingly hilarious as Jon whose views we share for most of the journey. Michael Fassbender manages to bring a charisma and a striking personality to Frank despite the obstruction of a fake head.
Yet, it is Maggie Gyllenhaal who makes this movie. She never disappoints me and has proved, through Frank, just how simultaneously precise and erratic she can be as an actress. She gives a powerhouse performance that deserves a lot more attention. The film gets better and better and although I am not as bowled over by Frank as perhaps I should be, I do think this is a clever and unpredictable indie romp that climbs to extraordinary heights in its closing moments.
Sight & Sound [Ryan Gilbey] May 9, 2014
Frank Sidebottom was a musical performer who combined parched Mancunian wit with avant-garde nuttiness and vaudevillian showmanship. His most striking feature was his spherical papier-mâché head with its painted-on features: saucer-sized blue eyes, pursed ruby lips and slicked-down, side-parted black hair. Created and portrayed by the late Chris Sievey, who died in 2010 aged 54, he epitomised the northern overlap between indie, punk and music hall along with the likes of Half Man Half Biscuit, John Cooper Clarke, Vic Reeves and Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights.
The journalist, author and broadcaster Jon Ronson wrote an article about his own spell in the late 1980s as a keyboard player in Frank’s Oh Blimey Big Band. This has now become the basis for Frank, co-written by Ronson and Peter Straughan (who collaborated previously on a screen adaptation of Ronson’s non-fiction book The Men Who Stare at Goats).
It marks a return to the study of tensions between the marginal and the mainstream for the Irish director Lenny Abrahamson. His last picture, What Richard Did (2012), focused on a young rugby player whose dazzling prospects are jeopardised when he commits a spontaneous act of violence. Prior to that, Abrahamson’s protagonists had been outsiders: the junkies of Adam & Paul (2004), the petrol-station attendant with learning difficulties in Garage (2007). Like those characters, Frank is at once in the world and hidden from it. Sequestered within that cartoon head he is simultaneously eye-catching and invisible.
The film, which is dedicated to Sievey, retains the rudiments of Frank’s story; other aspects have been fictionalised. Frank is now American, while the music of his group The Soronprfbs (it’s a running joke that even the band members don’t know how to pronounce the name) exudes not the real Frank’s amateurish Bontempi sensibility but the chugging, single-minded grind associated with The Fall or Krautrock bands Neu! and Can. Meanwhile his psychological condition aligns him with rock dropouts and outsiders such as Daniel Johnston and Syd Barrett. “What happened to him?” asks Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), the band’s keyboard player, near the end of the picture. “Nothing ‘happened’ to him,” Frank’s father replies, deflating any zaniness that has accumulated. “He has a mental illness.”
It isn’t exactly that this fact has been kept from us – more that it is one of several uncomfortable truths the film cleverly hides in plain sight. Until the final scenes, Frank’s behaviour is played either for laughs or a plangent strangeness. A pleasurably baggy section in the middle of the picture is devoted to a year-long recording session at a remote log cabin, where Frank’s mixture of perfectionism and eccentricity becomes both liberation and endurance test for the band. Its manager Don (Scoot McNairy) even commits suicide at the end of it, hanging himself while wearing one of Frank’s false heads, initially prompting fears that Frank himself is dead.
This idea of proxies, substitutes and inauthentic copies runs through the film. Jon is a replacement for the original keyboardist, who tries to drown himself after suffering a breakdown.
The sea always plays a pivotal part in Abrahamson’s work – there were deaths in or beside water in Adam & Paul and Garage, and an important beach scene in What Richard Did – so it’s significant that Frank starts with this near-death by drowning and later features a Norse-style funeral on a lake. Staring out to sea, Jon attempts to compose songs in his head in a series of painfully bad musical doodles to which we alone are privy. This leads to a breakthrough moment when he appears to have hit on a brilliant chord sequence, only for him to realise dejectedly that it is merely ripped off from ‘It Must Be Love’, which he was listening to only moments before. (Interestingly, Jon calls it “Madness’s ‘It Must Be Love’” – another reference to copies, since the original version is by Labi Siffre.)
Duplicates lurk in every corner of the film, beginning with Frank’s artificial head. To anyone who objects that his face is weird, he counters that real ones are just as odd. As if to prove that point, his bandmate and protector/enabler Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has a face that seems even more immobile than Frank’s illustrated one. (Her severely cut black bob also resembles a parody of his ‘hairstyle’.)
“Would it help if I said my facial expressions out loud?” Frank asks Jon, offering by way of example “Welcoming smile” and “Big, non-threatening grin”. No wonder some members of the entourage have trouble distinguishing between real and bogus, human and artificial – Don, for example, has a penchant for sex with mannequins. Even in death, Don does not escape the curse of the copy: believing themselves to be scattering his ashes in the desert, his friends discover too late that they are instead distributing handfuls of Grownut powder.
This extends to the relationship between reality and pretence within the filmmaking process. Frank is, after all, a kind of deliberate biopic manqué: the Frank Sidebottom story and yet not. But it is also a celebration of uniqueness. Its actors are not only portraying musicians – as with Nashville, all the music we see and hear being performed by the onscreen band is being played by the people on screen.
A more pressing question of authenticity is bound to surround any film in which a major star spends the bulk of his screen time with his face hidden. Given that Frank’s head stays on for all but two scenes, it will be a trusting viewer who doesn’t wonder even for a second whether it’s really Michael Fassbender under there all along. It would be unfair to call the unveiling near the end of the film a failure of nerve, especially since Fassbender gives a finely textured performance both in and out of the head, but it’s hard not to wish that some way had been found to preserve that tension – to keep us tantalised, even suspicious, to the last.
At least Frank has another, more insidious trick up its sleeve, which it is in no hurry to reveal. In the figure of Jon, the film has an obvious stand-in for the audience: he acts as our proxy, our bewildered eyes and ears, as he is drawn deeper into Frank’s oddball world.
The position of main character is a privileged one but it can also be deceptive. Jon is gradually shown to be spectacularly under-talented. That much is made clear when Frank and Clara invite him to play some of the songs he claims to have written. To say that the bucket emerges empty from the well would be an understatement. But as Jon devotes his energy to posting surreptitious footage of the band on YouTube, and boosting his own Twitter following, his interests begin to diverge starkly from those of Frank and The Soronprfbs. Jon is commerce; Frank is art, perhaps even genius. The film is binary in its insistence that the two are unhappy bedfellows.
Jon may be a dope but he is a dangerous one, at least in this context, much like the budding young editor in Lisa Cholodenko’s High Art (1998) who exploits the legendary, washed-up photographer with whom she starts an affair. Not only is Jon devoid of talent or originality, he is an actively negative, compromising influence on Frank. It was brave of Ronson to write his own onscreen surrogate as the villain of the piece, albeit an unacknowledged and inadvertent one. Braver still of the film to argue that the rest of us will never understand what it’s like to be a genius, so we may as well stop trying to prise open the damaged heads of our heroes.
Film of the Week: Frank | Film Comment Jonathan Romney, August 7, 2014
The 13 Most Amazing Outsider Artists of All Time – Flavorwire Paul Laster, August 24, 2011
One aspect of Star Trek that has been missing in the movie versions is an understanding for why the TV show clicked, namely the interrelations between the characters who couldn’t have been more different from one another, where the racial and intergalactic diversity expressed each week literally raised the bar in viewer social awareness. The show interestingly maintained a healthy dose of personal barbs between the characters that created distinct personalities at work in otherwise cramped, claustrophobic quarters, where from time to time they amusingly got on each others nerves and would take verbal swipes at one another. Some of the legendary cracks between Medical Officer McCoy raising his suspicions about half Vulcan, half human Spock’s overly rational brain reflecting the side of him that wasn’t human became part of the running dialogue on the ship, and was consistently used not only in the heat of battle but especially in the final few seconds of each show’s epilogue to show that no matter what their differences, all’s well that end’s well, as they survived another adventure together. That is the one attribute that this Star Trek movie pays particular attention to and it feels like a welcoming home of the characters themselves, as each is once more carefully defined by a certain aspect of their character that is wonderfully appealing. Add to this an astounding degree of physical resemblance to the original crew that is simply extraordinary. What’s fun about this version is that it comes before the regular crew of the Starship Enterprise was formed, where each hadn’t yet developed into their now familiar roles. The back stories, bearing a Smallville Superman, the early years resemblance, offers unique insight, even when it becomes hammy and so deliciously exaggerated to the point of being operatic. The film does an excellent job pin-pointing and merging the early years for both Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) on their respective planets, one in Iowa, the other on planet Vulcan, also providing an early action sequence that reveals how Kirk’s father was a Starship captain for a mere handful of seconds, yet in a heroic effort saved hundreds of lives in the process, including his wife and newborn.
One of the criticisms of the Star Trek movies overall is their over-reliance on special effects, where they love to show off where so much of the money goes, and this film is no different. It gets carried away with the same adrenaline rushes that fellow big budget Hollywood director Michael Bay is known for, also supported by wailing voices and plenty of pounding percussion. The difference here is that the characters are intriguing from the outset. When Kirk recklessly races cars as a kid or Spock is subjected to relentless torment from fellow Vulcans about his half human side, their personalities are being formed by the way they overcompensate from what’s missing in their lives, Kirk missing a father while Spock’s mother is not Vulcan. Kirk’s testy fight in the bar sequence and his relentless approach to seducing any and all women he sees is laughably over the top, but who would have thought Spock could be taunted into fisticuffs on his home planet? There’s a familiar ring to all of this, as Zoë Saldana’s sexy, but warmhearted Uhuru is actually romantically partnered with Spock here, not Kirk, amusingly seen giving last minute kisses in the transportation deck. Karl Urban is drop dead hilarious as Dr. McCoy injecting Kirk with a virus to gain him access to an otherwise off limits Starship, following with a succession of more injections due to his unforeseen symptoms, all while Kirk is challenging a Captain’s decision and making perhaps the biggest decision in his as yet undeveloped career. John Cho’s fencing expertise as Sulu early on saves Kirk’s life, and Anton Yelchin’s verbal mugging of the English language as the brilliant 17-year old thickly Russian accented Chekov is exquisite. Simon Pegg as the drink happy Chief Engineer Scott is deliriously happy at discovering transporting can take place at warp speeds, not to mention that he invented the scientific equation. And Leonard Nimoy makes not just an appearance, but plays a significant role in what this movie is about, that it’s not all accolades and successes of a rewarding career, but life is all about the journey along the way.
One major beef, however, is that it follows of the same formula that big Hollywood productions seem destined to follow, which is to accentuate meaningless battle sequences with plenty of explosions, including innumerable space ships, with objects hurled through space, bodies flying, where death and destruction is a major pattern to follow, as if that’s what holds an audience’s attention. No doubt for some, that’s the bottom line: was it exciting? Eric Bana is really very good as the rogue Romulan outlaw Nero, whose brutal interrogation methods are Neanderthal, but his mind is intensely psychological, scarred himself from losing his own planet. Little by little the main characters move their way into their familiar positions, predictably overcoming all obstacles. Unfortunately, this is a male heavy cast with few opportunities other than Uhuru and Spock’s mother to even have speaking roles, so for a film that features as one of its goals to lead the way in presenting a diversified view of a utopian future society, they certainly failed in this opportunity. Very few creatures from other galaxies played any significant role as well, so this was largely seen as the typical white man’s battle to save the universe. Spock’s performance in particular is impressive, especially because he is so full of doubt while also being the smartest guy in the room, while Kirk is a gung ho thrill seeker from the outset, the guy who routinely takes the greatest risks, yet whose self-centered arrogance is more a trait of actor William Shatner, the original Kirk, whose gargantuan ego preceded him wherever he went, as opposed to Pine who spends most of the film engaged in fights, oftentimes on the losing end, whose first response tendency toward reckless behavior does not exactly bode well for ship morale. But as a blockbuster action thriller costing $150 million, this at least goes for the tone and charming character references of the original TV series.
Geeks will rev their engines, but the unexpected elegance of director Abrams’s reboot of the franchise comes in its large-scale disavowal of easy nostalgia. Working with screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Abrams has done more than roll back the clock on the original crew of the Enterprise, dewy cadets of Starfleet Academy. The director has also stripped his brisk proceedings of the earlier movies’ glacial pomp. Of course, we recognize these kids: Brash, horndoggish Kirk (Pine, no worse than Shatner), quiet Spock (Quinto, beautifully concentrated), a surly rejecter of patronizing Vulcan schoolmasters; cool-as-ice Sulu (Cho); the 17-year-old whiz kid Chekhov (Yelchin).
Abrams milks Gene Roddenberry’s egalitarianism for all its timeliness; today’s optimistic postracial crew is inconceivable in an alternate political moment. (Yes, they so can.) A galloping, occasionally vertiginous story—involving a black-hole time warp and something do to with planet-consuming “red matter”—has been devised to propel Kirk, a cheater on his exams, into the captain’s chair, as well as keep our minds off the inevitable survival of all involved. Eric Bana, capable of delicious menace in Chopper, has less to work with as an underwritten Romulan warlord in a dark cape; you wish the script found a way to refresh its antagonists. But certain plot developments produce a real jolt, like an Uhura kiss too good to spoil and a hurled insult from Bones that pushes fidelity perversely close to profanity: “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?” Directorially speaking, Abrams has, without doubt, boldly gone where no one has gone before—you should, too.
While not exactly a Trekkie, I've always preferred Gene Roddenberry’s futuristic humanism to George Lucas’s puppet space-operas. Like the recent Batman epics (and minus their strained seriousness, thankfully), J.J. Abrams' Star Trek aims to revive the spirit that’s dissipated after decades of syndication, sequels, and parodies. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is born in the midst of an intergalactic skirmish that leaves him orphaned; his daddy hang-up lines up nicely with the mommy issues of Spock (Zachary Quinto), his half-Vulcan, half-human rival for command of the Starship Enterprise. The creatures include a Romulan renegade (Eric Bana) with a yen for drilling black holes into planets, a green-skinned hottie (Rachel Nichols), and a giant snow-crustacean quelled by the ravaged gravitas of the Original Cast Member Cameo. Part of me wants a Paul Verhoeven to tear this stuff to tatters, yet I’m heartened to see the wit and romance of the series treated lovingly, and with enough feisty confidence to have Kirk smack his head on the portal as he boards the vessel. Pine is blandly sensual and Quinto satisfactorily poised, but the rest of the Enterprise crew is piquant: Zoe Saldana is sexy and sharp as Uhura (glad somebody paid attention to The Terminal), Karl Urban is delectably splenetic as McCoy ("Ex-wife took the whole damn planet after the divorce"), John Cho is an inspired Sulu, and Simon Pegg (sputtering brogue) and Anton Yelchin (Russkie lilt) endear as Scotty and Chekov. The film’s most remarkable aspect, unfortunately, is its technical incompetence. Abrams doesn’t direct, he just whooshes the camera from side to side and flashes lights in your eyes -- Howard’s hack sprinting in Angels & Demons looks like an old master’s contemplative rhythms next to these toy-ad seizures. There's blood still left in Star Trek; next time get a filmmaker, not a film-shredder.
I think that piece is spot on. I too was a first-generation
Star Trek fan, and it is only in retrospect that I see clearly how much it
shaped my world-view. I do wish Mr. Greenwald had given shout-outs in the essay
to Gene Roddenberry -- who maintained a dogged insistence on his startlingly
fresh multicultural vision in the face of network indifference and hostility --
and to Nichelle Nichols, whose performance as Lieutenant Uhura undoubtedly had
a special significance for Obama as it did for so many African-Americans (and
women), from astronaut Mae Jemison to Whoopi Goldberg (later a semi-regular on Star
Trek: The Next Generation, of course). Mr. Greenwald does quote Henry
Jenkins to the effect that he was formed by Star Trek and Martin Luther
King, and it is fascinating to realize that there is an actual linkage between
the two: King was a fan of the show and advised Nichols to stay with her as yet
not-fully-developed role because of its immense impact ("Once that door is
opened by someone, no one can close it again"). I have often thought how
cool it would be to be Nichelle Nichols or George Takei and realize that no
matter what else happened in my life, I had performed a true social good that
could never be erased.
When Star Trek premiered, I was eight years old. The races were seldom mixed on television at all, and on the rare instances when they were, the template was white master, black servant. Along comes this show in which all races freely mixed, cooperated, and were of equal intellectual and ethical stature. The subliminal impact of that on the nation's children, especially as the show developed its cult status in re-runs moving into the Seventies, was incalculably huge. We were being prepared for
There are moments in the furious new Star Trek iteration in which the young actors who play Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest resemble Baby Looney Toons doing old shtick in disconcertingly high voices. Yet there are other, transcendent moments—time-benders. Suddenly, I found myself back in the days when I (and you?) enacted Star Trek in the basement: “Phasers on stun.” “Mr. Scott, we need that warp drive.” “I’m a doctor, not an escalator!” If you care about this universe (and I do, damn it), you won’t sit passively through J.J. Abrams’s restart Trek. You’ll marvel at the smarts and wince at the senselessness. You’ll nitpick it to death and thrill to it anyway.
Because, in the end, what choice is there? The first generation of Trekkers is elderly or gone to that most final of frontiers, the next generation is up in years, and the most memorable thing about the generation after that was the Borg with big breasts whose distaste for sex clubs helped elect Barack Obama. Either we accept this “reboot” or watch The Wrath of Khan for the thirty-eighth time. And Abrams and his writers (Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman) have come up with a way to make you dig the souped-up new scenery while pining for the familiar—a good thing. When Kirk gets bumped from the captain’s chair and trades insults with Spock, it’s funny and surprising and wrong wrong wrong. Which is the point. We’re rooting for Abrams to be less original—to give us back our Kirk and Spock.
The gimmick is a black hole, one of those handy
time-travel-enabling anomalies with which we sci-fi fans have a love-hate
relationship. A spiky black behemoth from the future hurtles through said hole
carrying a vengeful Romulan driller-killer called Nero (Eric Bana)—whereupon,
presto, history is altered. In this alternate-universe, James T. Kirk’s father
is dead, and Kirk (Chris Pine) grows up a daredevil ne’er-do-well. He doesn’t
want to go to
Hard to say, since the focus is more on mismatched buddies:
Young rule-breaker Kirk and young by-the-book Spock loathe each other on sight
and spend much of the film as antagonists. We’re always on Kirk’s side, though.
Behind those impudent baby blues, young Pine mugs like mad, but there’s wit in
the way he seizes the space: He seems to be both channeling and poking fun at
William Shatner’s mighty ego. He leads with his appetites. On the other hand,
Zachary Quinto plays the half-Vulcan, half-human Spock as the kind of
know-it-all even geeks want to slam into a locker. The problem might be as
basic as Quinto’s physiognomy. Where Leonard Nimoy adopted a semi-scrutable
(vaguely Eastern) mask, Quinto’s features settle into a sneer. Nimoy’s Spock
would tell his colleagues, “I have no feelings to hurt,” and we knew it was a
lie because Nimoy’s impassivity was so pregnant. But Quinto’s face telegraphs
disdain. He’s Kirk’s competitor—which might be more realistic but which utterly
changes the Star Trek dynamic. Kirk
is no longer the virile leader trying to find a balance between coolly
dispassionate logic (Spock) and urgent humanist emotion (Dr. McCoy). He’s
hardly even a plausible leader. (How does
he end up in the captain’s chair?) The doggone kids really have seized the
In fairness, it’s too soon to tell where the revamped Star Trek will go, since a lot of this first
installment is foreplay: Get ’em grown up (out of Iowa, off Vulcan), get ’em
out of school (bring on the final exam—the Kobayashi Maru!), get ’em onboard
the U.S.S. Enterprise, and bring on
the bad guy and space battles. The fights and photon-torpedoings are rousingly
done, and since the self-inflating Shatner famously had scripts rewritten to
make the other crew members ciphers, there’s room for actors to bring new stuff
to the party. Is she (Zoe Saldana)
Uhura? Yowza. Hey, look at that—Starfleet women in boots and miniskirts again!
What’s Harold doing on the
Scotty (the crackerjack comic actor Simon Pegg, of Shaun of the Dead) shows up an hour into the film, some time after Leonard Nimoy delivers the screen’s first exposition-via-mind-meld. That clarifies Nero’s motives, which turn out to be awfully thin. (It’s weird how Star Trek villains think nothing of blowing up planets to avenge their wives.) Nimoy, meanwhile, looks very old and happier than he has in years: He has finally decided he is Spock, and not even Zachary Quinto can deny him. So it’s in with the old and the new, and let’s give this crew another voyage.
Talk about questionable prospects! Who could ever imagine
Even with the still popular possibilities of The Next Generation (and to some extent, Deep Space Nine), fans both young and old just can’t get enough of the 1960s series. And with prequels being so plentiful (and usually unsuccessful), going back to the very beginning of Trek would appear tenuous at best. Luckily, studio heads cleared enough to give Lost‘s J.J. Abrams the creative Con - and it’s a good thing too. His Star Trek instantly becomes one of the year’s best films.
Troubled and rebellious as a young boy, James Tiberius Kirk
can’t shake the feeling that he was meant for something more. Similarly, Vulcan
child Spock has difficulty deciphering his half-human, half-alien feelings. The
two end up at
When a mystery mining vessel carrying the angry Romulan Nero
breaks through the neutral zone and attacks Vulcan, Captain Pike pilots the
It’s hard to express in mere words how wonderful J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot is, especially for a worn in the wool die-hard Trek head like yours truly. It’s a silly, grinning from ear to ear experience, a ‘wow’ that works overtime to keep from ever letting you down. From the moment we learn of our heroes’ hamstrung youth, to the final confrontation that will define their legacy for star dates to come, there is a reverence and a revitalization that finally turns Trek into everything founder Roddenberry - and his throngs of devotees - hoped for.
This is more than just a ‘remake’ or a ‘reimagining’. This is brilliant filmmaking artistry filtered through a deep appreciation for what Star Trek stands for, for the years it held the lantern for serious science fiction while other efforts traveled toward the ‘dark side’ of action adventure commerciality. Granted, Abrams pours on the thrills, but he doesn’t cheapen the mythology that made Kirk and company true cultural icons.
This is a movie that performs remarkably well on all levels - as an introduction to the seminal characters for newbies, a welcome return visit to younger versions of old friends, a highly sophisticated mainstream entertainment, a rock ‘em sock ‘em effects spectacle, and a reminder that ideas can be just as exciting and interesting as images. Abrams, working from an excellent script by frequent collaborators Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, takes his time with each element, letting information and concepts sink in before rapidly and rationally moving on.
The opening battle, which we catch more or less in mid-strategy, instantly encases us in the world we are about to enter. It also sets the emotional tone. By the time an underage Kirk runs his step-dad’s classic car up to (and over) the edge of a nearby ravine, we are ready to go anywhere with this story - and Abrams takes us there, both outside the characters and inside their deepest fears.
This is a true origin story, the kind which doesn’t skimp on the painful parts. Both Kirk and Spock are seen as deeply hurt by their childhood circumstance. It is a realistic foundation which explains a great deal of their later relationship. Similarly, we understand the motives of Uhura and McCoy, each one taking up defense for their friend. As actors, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are so note-perfect as our Trek titans that we often wonder if we are viewing Shatner and Nimoy through some kind of age-defying prism.
Also excellent are Zoe Saldana, John Cho, and in a last act appearance that’s a tad too brief, a wonderful Simon Pegg as everyone’s favorite “beamer” Scotty. Of particular note is Karl Urban. About a billion light years from Middle Earth (where he was Eomer), his McCoy is so delicious dead-on, so absolutely channeling the spirit and spunk of DeForest Kelly that he almost steals the film from everyone else.
But it’s Eric Bana who brings it all together. His villain with a heart hellbent on revenge is not some ridiculous raving psychopath. Instead, he’s someone who literally lost everything, and is determined to make those who he believes responsible pay in the exact same way. This leads to Trek‘s biggest surprise - the sheer scope and size of the threat. When we first realize what’s about to happen to one of the series well known places, the shock is matched only by the sensation of seeing it play out powerfully on the big screen. Star Trek is the very definition of a blockbuster, a larger than life experience that has to be seen theatrically to be fully appreciated. This is as epic an entertainment as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the original Star Wars, and Christopher Nolan’s operatic Dark Knight.
Once again, long time Trekkies (or Trekkers), have no fear. No one has raped your memories this time around. If anything, Abrams has acknowledged and acquiesced to them, giving your love of the original series as much care and consideration as you do. And those unfamiliar with the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, you too should feel unafraid. Accessibility is the key here, the movie made so stunning in its ability to hook you and keep you happy that you’ll soon forget your four decades outside the obsessive Trek fray.
For all others in between, heed this advice - Star Trek is destined to be remembered as one of 2009’s biggest and best surprises, a gamble that beat both the house and those holding the cards to turn everyone into a winner. This is the reason why movies are magic. This is why some of us fell in love with the original series in the first place. Bless you J. J. Abrams. May you live long, and definitely prosper.
Critic After Dark Noel Vera
The House Next Door [Simon Abrams] May 10, 2009
The House Next Door [Matt Maul] May 9, 2009
The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Obama is Spock: It's quite logical - Barack Obama News - Salon.com Jeff Greenfeld from Salon, May 7, 2009
Asking the Wrong Questions: Trek-Dump Abigail Nussbaum from Asking the Wrong Questions, May 15, 2009
Star Trek (2009) Adam Roberts from Punkadiddle, May 16, 2009
Spockbama and George T. Bush zunguzungu, May 18, 2009
Star Trek: I Love You, Man. Millicent from Millicent and Carla Fan, May 26, 2009
The Underdetermined Death of Uhuru zunguzungu, June 2, 2009
Slant Magazine review Bill Weber
World Socialist Web Site Hiram Lee
Film Freak Central review Walter Chaw
Twitch review Canfield
Screen International review Mike Goodridge
A Nutshell Review Stefan S
Cinefantasitque Online John T. Stanhope
Ferdy on Films, etc. Roderick Heath
CBC.ca Arts review Martin Morrow
Monsters and Critics Ann Brodie
hoopla.nu review Stuart and Mark
Ruthless Reviews (potentially offensive) Erich Schulte
Entertainment Weekly review [A-] Owen Gleiberman
The Hollywood Reporter review Ray Bennett
Boston Globe review [4/4] Ty Burr
Much like this director paid tribute to the Star Trek TV era, especially good at catching the various personality traits of the major players, this film pays tribute to the era of Spielberg, including several of his notable movies. Again, Abrams does some things extremely well, like catch the E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982) innocent mood of the kids who continually hang out together with no adult supervision, eventually tracing the presence of an alien presence in the community while also establishing a great build up of suspense for the horrible presence of an unseen monster in JAWS (1975), not to mention the U.S. military creating a diversionary catastrophe from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) which sends the local community into mass hysteria while covering up their real mission, which remains top secret. While there is also a shared love for big box-office special effects, like Abrams last film, there is an over-reliance on loud explosions, as if this is the only way to cause adrenaline rushes, yet this kind of destructive mayhem exists throughout the film, led by Noah Emmerich, perennial bad guy who heads the secret Air Force unit, a guy who will stop at nothing in supposedly tracking down public enemy number one, their top secret monster they’ve been keeping under wraps that is suddenly missing and unleashed on the public, refusing to share basic information, even as it destroys communities and ravages the countryside. Unlike Spielberg, this has a darker menace throughout, as there are constant images of death, demolition, and destruction, where these kids are running through the streets alone trying to avoid getting killed, which is a far cry from being caught by their parents for doing something they’re not allowed. Like BAMBI (1942), the first Disney film to kill off a helpless fawn’s mother, the audience quickly discovers that Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney with a slight Ralph Macchio resemblance), the lead child’s mother has also been killed, leaving him alone with his distant and self-absorbed father, Kyle Chandler as the Sheriff’s Deputy, a man caught up in the town’s hysteria with no answers to quell the maddening voices.
Set in 1979, the film starts out innocently enough with a group of middle school kids led by Riley Griffiths as Charles, who are trying to make a special effects Super 8 zombie movie to enter into a local film contest, though they feel compelled to strain for greater effects, since 15 and 16-year olds will also be competing. Sneaking out at night, they meet at the railroad tracks, including the presence of Elle Fanning as Alice, the cute girl that the boys think would never talk with them, surprising them all with her own rebellious streak. Much like Drew Barrymore in E.T., Fanning is a joy to watch, showing maturity beyond her years, not to mention a charming talent in front of a camera, where despite playing a ghoulish zombie, her beguiling presence unsettles the boys who have been best friends for years. As if to accentuate this imbalance, they witness a horrible train accident, where a train carrying Air Force top secret materials gets derailed in spectacular fashion, where they each defy death and somehow survive while unknowingly capturing the event on film, making their escape before anyone is detected, vowing to keep it a secret, as they believe something horrible will track down their families. First animals go missing, then appliances strangely disappear, entire car engines are pulled out of cars before people start mysteriously disappearing as well, including the sheriff, where only weird noises can be heard in the dark before a violent attack of some kind snatches its prey. This leaves Joe’s father in charge of these strange inexplicable random events, but the military finds his incessant questioning curiously disturbing, as if this was somehow preventing them from carrying out their mission. Unfortunately the warped world of the adults is an unpleasant contrast to the more stellar ideas and enthusiasm shown by the playfulness of the kids, who inherently trust one another, as opposed to the world of adults where suspicion and the unending use of violence reigns.
Despite the plentiful
use of special effects sequences, the best thing in the film is the
smaller-world interaction of the kids, whose unique personalities add humor and
intrigue to the story, where they’re a close-knit group that draws the audience
in with their appeal, led by Joe, who can’t stop thinking about
Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goonies, E.T. - Steven Spielberg's influence on moviemaking is unmistakable. And for director J.J. Abrams, who grew up fixing Spielberg's old 8-mm films, the student/mentor relationship has finally culminated into Super 8, a nostalgic sci-fi thriller involving a group of teenage friends in small town Lillian, Ohio, who set out to make a zombie movie of their own only to stumble upon an alien event that has the whole town in a frenzy. As savvy filmmakers, the kids use the situation as fodder for their film while curiously investigating alongside Lillian's deputy sheriff (played by Kyle Chandler). And while Super 8 lacks some of the emotional punch and heart so masterfully orchestrated by Spielberg, it does capture some of the magic, surprise, and excitement of his early works. A coming-of-age monster movie for the masses, Super 8 brings the thrill and awe back to the summer Cineplex.
Super 8 | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club Keith Phipps
For a stretch of the 1980s, there wasn’t enough Steven Spielberg to go around. While continuing to direct a movie every year or two, Spielberg produced films that had the look and feel of Spielberg-by-proxy, films filled with end-of-childhood adventures, suburbs, and small towns that doubled as unexpected sites of wonder or horror. In the best of them, directors like Joe Dante and Robert Zemeckis put their personal stamp on Spielbergian themes while creating popcorn-friendly films to rival their inspiration. Set in the streets, magic-hour-blanketed hills, and cluttered suburban homes of a small Ohio town as the 1970s edge into the ’80s, the J.J. Abrams-scripted-and-directed Super 8—which Spielberg produced—consciously, and successfully, looks back to an era of abundant Spielbergiana.
Joel Courtney leads a cast of talented, mostly unfamiliar kid actors as the
middle-school-aged son of Kyle Chandler, a sheriff’s deputy who struggles with
the demands of single parenthood after his wife dies in a steel-mill accident.
Courtney copes by escaping into a world of models and monster magazines, and
fills his free hours making a zombie film with his movie-mad pal Riley
Griffiths. Their film progresses nicely, especially after the addition of Elle
Fanning as their female lead, even though
Saying more would spoil Super 8’s carefully cultivated aura of surprise, but suffice it to say that what follows won’t be too surprising to those who have seen the films that lend Super 8 their DNA—Spielberg’s and others. That makes Abrams’ film both welcomingly and frustratingly familiar, and more the latter as it goes along. Abrams has a gift for capturing awe and dread—sometimes both at once—and a less-inspiring command of what to do with it. More troublingly, the film’s emotional elements feel more tacked-on than deeply considered, though the performances help rescue some thinly conceived relationships. (Fanning in particular deserves extra credit on this front.)
That said, of all the filmmakers who have tried to recapture the Spirit Of ’82, nobody has succeeded as well as Abrams does here. Super 8 constructs a believably complicated small-town world, fills it with the right period details (apart from an anachronism here and there), shoots it lushly, gives it a Michael Giacchino score filled with John Williams-isms, then tests its residents’ sense of order, righteousness, and willingness to stand up to authority with a chaotic element that could destroy them. Its pleasures are borrowed, but durable.
Already a few critics have jumped on this film, calling it
‘nostalgia porn’. It’s a worthless kind of complaint but it’s kind of easy to
understand. It’s the first collaboration between two giants of pop culture: JJ
Abrams, who writes and directs, and Steven Spielberg, who here produces. The
hype around Super 8 suggests a ‘70s style Spielberg pic with all that
that implies – kids, chases, ‘broken homes’, a suburban small town setting,
much paranoia and a storyline that swoops and dives across plot lines concerned
with military cover ups, teen adventure and What It Takes to Be a Good Father.
And yep, every single one of those stylistic tics and story quirks are present
and accounted for here. Which is another way of saying this is a big, loud and
busy movie. In a way, and I mean this as a compliment, this is one long movie
in-joke. Just about every scene is a conscious and loving ‘steal’ from another
movie, usually something directed by Spielberg – quotes from E.T.
and especially Close Encounters abound, but there’s also riffs on Jaws, Duel,
The Sugarland Express and even 1941! If you know these movies,
Super 8 plays like a party; it’s like pals and their secret jokes. The plot
itself is a parody of Blow Out and Invasion of the Body Snatchers,
Them! and War of the Worlds via Stand By Me.
What I suspect has given Super 8 an aura of movie ‘cool’ leading up to its release is Abrams. He’s got the best kind of new age sci-fi credentials in Lost and the Star Trek re-boot of 2009. (You could throw in Cloverfield too, the ‘found footage’ chase-‘n’-hide monster from outer space movie he produced in 2008.) He’s a generation younger than Spielberg (the latter is now pushing 70) and his sensibility is different too. His stuff is emotional, but in a different way to Spielberg. He’s got a better feel for comedy than Spielberg and his relationship with the material is more ironic, which makes it less sentimental, and while there’s gee-wiz stuff, scares and action all over Super 8, it’s the comedy that keeps it alive and warm; it saves it from just another exercise in studio summer blockbuster mechanics. What Spielberg and Abrams seem to have in common is not just a love of the movies, but something else that is deeper about the movie making process itself. Anyone who knows anything about Spielberg understands that as a kid he was bullied and harassed. Making super 8 movies, literally calling the shots and ‘pushing’ around the ‘cool’ guys, was Spielberg’s way of getting control of his life. It was a way of making the world his. Abrams got started making super 8 movies too. Obviously there’s a kinship.
The best thing about Super 8 isn’t just its sheer joy and pleasure in special effects, suspense, and the exotic possibilities of sci-fi; it’s the way it connects so directly and deeply with all the nerds out there who tried to make sense of who they were by creating something. Distilled to essentials, Super 8 is about how making movies can be a great way to exorcise your demons and get control. It’s a fashionable theme; the need to ‘recover’ from some terrible angst is everywhere in American popular culture and movies, but this is the first ‘therapy’ movie I’ve seen about kids making a super 8 zombie movie!
The setting is a steel town in
While Joe and Charles and crew shoot a climatic scene at a deserted railway station ‘real-life’ crashes in; there’s a train wreck, something terrible escapes from the wreckage and their super 8 camera records the whole thing. Enter the army and a backstory about secret and sinister experiments. Will Joe step up for himself and his friends? Will he end up with
What follows has a predictable energy to it, but in a way that’s really enjoyable since Abrams understands the conventions so well; he’s terrific at putting something really unique or smart into every single ‘seen before’ moment.
Super 8 is kind of impossible to review in close detail since a lot of the fun is in the plot and to talk about that here is entering spoiler territory.
The performances are all fine, the scares are good, and it looks and sounds like a cross between E.T. and Lost. Still, what’s best about it is the way it taps the power of movies and stories. For Joe, filmmaking isn’t just about making fantasy, it’s a liberation.
REVIEW: J.J. Abrams' Spielberg Homage Super 8 Is Less ... - Movieline Stephanie Zacharek
Review: Super 8 offers up charming character piece with ... - HitFix Drew McWeeny from HitFix
Filmcritic.com Sean O’Connell
Super 8 - Reelviews Movie Reviews James Berardinelli
Film Reviews by Joe Morgenstern The Wall Street Journal
FILM REVIEW: Super 8 Eli Glasner from CBC.ca Arts
Cinema Autopsy Thomas Caldwell
Super 8 : DVD Talk Review of the Theatrical Tyler Foster
Super 8: movie review Peter Rainer from The Christian Science Monitor
'Super 8' review: Hyped summer 'blockbuster' occasionally loses ... Chris Hewitt from The St. Paul Pioneer Press
'Super 8' review: A+ for paean to B-movie sci-fi Mick LaSalle from The SF Chronicle
'Super 8': Movie review - Los Angeles Times Kenneth Turan
Super 8 :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews Roger Ebert
J. J. Abrams's 'Super 8' Zooms In on a Dark Secret - Review ... A.O. Scott from The New York Times
USA (132 mi) 2013 ‘Scope Paramount [us]
Lacking the humor and
flair of the earlier STAR TREK (2009), this second J.J. Abrams stab at Star Trek (1966 – 1969), the legendary
but now 37-year old Gene Roddenberry developed sci-fi TV show, more closely
resembles STAR WARS (1977 – present), and its computer generated action
adventures in outer space, where it’s no accident that Abrams has been chosen
to direct the next STAR WARS movie.
Gone, however, is any trace of personality or clever character
development that defined both the TV show and the earlier film, as this is pure
stereotype throughout, expressed entirely through worn out cliché’s that have
all been done better before. So in
effect, what feels like retread and rehashed TV is played out as purely
The original 60’s Star Trek TV series was actually conceived during the Vietnam War, where the Prime Directive, never explicitly spelled out, but suggests modern cultures with their more advanced technologies may not interfere in the evolution of another developing society, was actually a reflection of the writer’s sentiments that America had no business in Vietnam. While the Prime Directive was routinely made light of, “I prefer to think of it as the Prime Suggestion,” by Captain James T. Kirk, the truth of the matter is that while this was the ideal objective in the abstract, it was, in reality, routinely ignored on any number of occasions, whenever Kirk felt the end justified the means. In the post-Bush era of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and the Afghanistan incursions, there’s something ugly and cynical about the ease by which moral guidelines are routinely ignored in the movies, no doubt a mirror reflection of society’s apathetic compliance, but these transgressions are being made by the military branch’s flagship ambassador starship while supposedly carrying out the highest ideals of civilization, where the nonchalant hero (again Captain Kirk) seems to be saying oops, sorry about that, with little more seriousness than the wink of an eye. It’s actually built into Kirk’s recalcitrant character from the beginning that he’s a reckless and cocky, hot shot, becoming the only student at Starfleet command to defeat the Kobayashi Maru test, earning a commendation for original thinking when he reprogrammed the computer, making a “no-win scenario” winnable. It’s this kind of thinking that supposedly expresses Kirk’s stubborn individualism, where it’s a fine line between swaggering heroism and being sent to the brig for insubordination. The film opens with exactly this kind of impossible situation, where against all odds the Captain must consider the unthinkable, where rescuing a single member from his crew could jeopardize the lives of all the others, and of course a brash and daring rescue mission, even though successful (was there ever any doubt?), gets him in trouble back home with Starfleet command, stripping him of his position as captain of the Enterprise.
While improperly maligned, seemingly unjust, and downright unthinkable (as who wants to watch an episode with someone else in command?), this quickly becomes the least of our concerns, as in true GODFATHER III (1990) fashion, there is an intruder in the ranks, like Harry Potter’s Voldemort risen from the dead files of the Starfleet archives, someone with near supernatural powers who quickly threatens to destroy the balance of power and peaceful stabilization in the universe. Escaping to an uninhabitable region of Klingon territory, this outlaw, played with British calm by Benedict Cumberbatch, turns out to be none other than the notorious villain Khan, played originally on TV by Ricardo Montalbán, reprising the role in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982), though Cumberbatch bears no resemblance whatsoever to the evil ruthlessness of the character. In fact, in a curious twist, one of Starfleet’s own megalomaniacal commanders goes even more haywire, Alexander Marcus, played by Peter Weller, though it appears he’s channeling Richard Widmark’s demented film noir persona. It is Marcus that revives the military trained Khan from his cryogenic sleep, fearing war with the Klingons, where he works on developing top secret Starfleet weapons and battleships under a cover identity before he rebels, carrying out a series of attacks for the rest of the picture. While there are plenty more references to the TV series, most are lame, poorly written, and pitifully undermined by the endless battle sequences that exclusively drive the action, with a single exception. As the Enterprise, apparently sabotaged, comes under a blistering attack, engines stalled, losing warp power and attack mode, where the ship is in flames and people are dying by the second, Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg), who’s oblivious to what’s been happening as he’s been elsewhere, is beamed onboard the ship as it suddenly goes into a nosedive from engine failure, where he hilariously utters: "One day I’ve been off this ship! One bloody day!” STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS - Character Profile - Scotty - YouTube (). It’s a refreshing return to character, where other than that, the best that we’re treated to is a lover’s quarrel between Spock and Uhuru (Zachary Quinto and Zoë Saldana) during the middle of another ferocious assault. Chris Pine plays Kirk with the same kind of bland disrespect for authority, as if it’s been programmed into him, while Leonard Nimoy makes a brief appearance, breathing more life into his few seconds, albeit a reminder of just what we’re missing.
There's been a lot of speculation in recent months over whether Star Trek Into Darkness will see the return of a huge fan favourite to the franchise. It gives me great pleasure to announce that yes, the tribble is back. Sure, it only makes a cameo appearance, but it's a scene-stealer.
The tribble is not Benedict Cumberbatch.
Did everyone enjoy 2009's Star Trek reboot? I certainly did: it was an inherently enjoyable romp with more than enough charm to cover its many flaws. I'm still surprised when I find the occasional person who's indifferent or actively opposed. This time around: less charm, but fewer flaws.
Into Darkness ably addresses the two main criticisms leveled at its predecessor: the plot was nonsense and the villain was rubbish. The baddie's been beefed up, the plot's been pared down, but the emotional core which really sold the first film — the magnificent character interaction — remains unscathed. Everyone gets their own chance to shine, though the Kirk-Spock dynamic takes up most of the screentime.
There's plenty of screentime. Into Darkness weighs in at over two hours, and it doesn't mess about. We're into a ridiculous action set-piece from the get-go, in a scene that effortlessly captures the personality of the original series. Fan-pleasing references are littered throughout, from minor character names to major plot points to the aforementioned tribble, with some interesting role reversals and another cameo from Leonard Nimoy. It's impossible to say much more without spoiling the plot, but rest assured the film bounces along for the full two hours, holding attention principally through the strength of the key performances.
Cumberbatch carries on the grand tradition of British Hollywood villains, with flashes of both Hans Gruber and Dr Hannibal Lecktor evident in his portrayal of a charming sociopath. Lesser actors would struggle to keep up; it's a testament to Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto that they manage to hold their own. Another unexpected treat is Peter Weller, a criminally underrated actor who'll hopefully pick up some more high-profile roles off the back of this one.
As with the 2009 offering, the visuals are stunning, the cinematography dynamic and engaging, the vfx superb. At times it feels rather like watching someone else playing a videogame, but these scenes are few and thankfully brief. We may be going where we've already gone before, but we're plenty bold about it.
Afforded all the freedom in the 'verse to create their own
take on the Star Trek mythos, thanks to the alternate timeline established
by 2009's broad but reasonably clever reboot-quel, team Abrams almost
immediately sets about squandering all of that potential on superficial,
nostalgic fan-service thinly spread between layers of typical, mindless action
When Trekkies see where J.J. Abrams and company have taken their beloved franchise, they're likely to explode in fury over the lightweight comedy (ha, ha, Vulcans are different!) and illogical plot points (did you know that Spock is tougher than a full platoon of Klingon warriors?). Or, contrarily, perhaps they'll swoon in nerdgasmic ecstasy over shined-up, dumbed-down versions of iconic story elements from days gone by that have been trotted out to trick the faithful into believing that this is anything other than crass, brand-aware, mass market entertainment.
Everyone involved has gone to great lengths to keep the film's secrets, but the movie tips its hand fairly early on (and IMDB seems fine with spoilers), so the big "surprise" at the heart of the embarrassingly titled Into Darkness is hardly that. Even so, the writers half-heartedly try to throw expectant viewers off the scent with an internal terrorist plot and a looming Klingon war MacGuffin.
To start things off, after a colourful, kinetic opening sequence on a random M-class planet that resets the adversarial logic-versus-gut-instinct side of Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Kirk's (Chris Pine) relationship, we spend too much time being reminded that Kirk is a cocky rule breaker in need of discipline. The mentor/mentee dynamic between Colonel Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and our brash, young captain is dusted off when Kirk is relieved of command for violating the Prime Directive to save a crewmember.
This order is rendered moot almost as soon as it's handed down; tracking a deadly murderer into Klingon territory is far more important than following rules of non-interference with primitive cultures. Admiral Marcus and a comely young science officer by the name of Carol (Alice Eve, proving that she actually has a bit of range) have important parts to play in the mechanical and frequently silly plot. However, the motivations of their characters are even less developed than those of the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, who steals every scene he's in with his rich, booming voice and commanding presence).
Don't expect any intriguing science, mind games or thought experiments from Into Darkness — this is Star Trek as pure action spectacle, where every side character exists solely to sling bon mots intended to satiate audience members hungry for the comfortable familiarity of repetition. The movie looks fantastic, as long as you love lens flare, and has enough pointless, large-scale destruction to compete with any Transformers film.
However, anyone looking for more than a modern military paranoia twist on a pre-existing story — one that's overflowing with the most basic populist humour imaginable — will be left feeling colder than a Vulcan in a cryo-tube.
The thrill and peril of revisiting and revising history served not only as a mission statement for J.J. Abrams's Star Trek, but also as the chief thematic concern of the narrative, involving dueling attempts to alter or recreate history rather than accept it. Abrams essentially successfully recreated popular myth by highlighting his own unease in undertaking such a tremendous task, and the result was a film that exceeded nearly every other filmic iteration of the series.
As such, it's not exactly surprising that Star Trek Into Darkness compounds that unease and further dismantles accepted mythology. Still, it's a reassuring sign that Abrams and his collaborators continue to chart their own distinct path through the final frontier. There's an ironic punch, then, to the film opening with Captain James T. Kirk (Christopher Pine) and First Officer Spock's (Zachary Quinto) inability to practice anonymity, following an exhilarating last-minute rescue of Spock from the gut of an active volcano. For Kirk, the issue is less the demotion he receives from father-figure Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) than Spock's willingness to follow the prime directive, even at the expense of his life or their friendship. Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Spock's long-term partner, isn't very pleased with this either, as it turns out.
For Abrams, the Spock/Kirk dynamic serves as both central dramatic relationship and a perfect abstraction of the creative process of deciding when to indulge the mythology of the series created by Gene Rodenberry and when to trust one's own sense of creation—the personal versus the proven, played out as intergalactic action-melodrama. (Spoilers herein.) And like the film, Kirk is stripped of his own rebuilt sense of personal history early on, when Pike is murdered during an attack engineered by John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a mysterious traitor in the Starfleet ranks who's hiding out on Qo'noS, home planet of the Klingons. Left mourning and in need of vengeance, Kirk comes under the tutelage of Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), who sends him to destroy Qo'noS and Harrison with a cadre of new weaponry.
Even more than its predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness is densely plotted, and occasionally borders on the convoluted, but the clarity and inventiveness of the direction keeps the drama and action constantly percolating. This comes in handy when it's revealed that Harrison is, in fact, Khan, an engineered super-being awakened from cryogenic slumber to help create weaponry for Starfleet's attack on Qo'noS. The revelation of Admiral Marcus's warmongering, made by an initially helpful Khan, dismantles Kirk's newly reinforced ideal of Starfleet as do-gooders, but also bonds him to his enemy, and the script rebuilds the rivalry between Kirk and Khan with a rousing sense of moral complexity. Khan isn't sketched in terms of the perceived evil of his actions, but by his potent ideas and knowledge, which are corrupted by a need for violent vengeance.
Put simply, Khan is Kirk left to his own devices, without his trusted crewmembers to offer wisdom and counsel. His need for his crew is mirrored in Abrams's shrewdly democratic sense of developing action, the precision of which feels almost too perfectly calibrated at points. The ambitions and moral weight of the narrative, however, are so striking that the film never feels particularly overwrought. With less major set pieces than its predecessor and a scant amount of creatures, Star Trek Into Darkness strides like a sci-fi box-office behemoth, but has the emotional rigors of poison-tipped melodrama. In this, the inevitable comparisons to The Empire Strikes Back are absolutely justified.
This isn't to say that the film lacks muscle: a shoot-out with a battalion of Klingons, the Enterprise's powerless free fall, and Spock and Khan's climactic duel in the sky above San Francisco all afford thrilling action to match the emotional lacerations that the Enterprise crewmembers must endure, from without and within. At first glance, the film seems to just reiterate the structure and trials of its predecessor by focusing again on the battle between Kirk's ego and Spock's logic, but the stakes have clearly been raised, the moral knot further tightened and tangled. Kirk is no longer seeking an identity for himself, but also for those he must lead, as he watches his idols either die or become violent cowards. The struggle to become both an individual and a leader simultaneously, without the crutch of established honor, has obvious underpinnings for Abrams, a brilliant director who now finds himself watching George Lucas's throne. That struggle doesn't come to an easy, quick, or certain conclusion for anyone in Star Trek Into Darkness, which is more defined by inner demons and emotional gamesmanship than warp drives and photon torpedoes.
Sight & Sound [Kim Newman] May 10, 2013
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'Star Trek Into Darkness': The Young and the Reckless | TIME.com Richard Corliss
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BFI | Sight & Sound | Paradise Now (2005) Ali Jaafer from Sight and Sound, May 2006
Nablus, Palestine, the present. Best friends Saïd and Khaled work in a garage. One of the cars they fix belongs to Suha, the daughter of a man respected for being a Palestinian ‘martyr'. Saïd tries to ignore his and Suha's mutual attraction. Later that evening a Palestinian militant informs Saïd that he and Khaled have been chosen to carry out a suicide bombing in Israel the following day; they both have one last evening to spend with their families.
Late at night, Saïd goes to see Suha and tells her his father was killed for collaborating with the Israelis, but he doesn't say anything about the planned suicide operation. The following day, Saïd and Khaled are readied for their mission, and bombs are strapped to their waists. They are taken to a crossing on the border with Israel, but a mix-up results in Saïd and Khaled getting separated. Khaled links up with the other militants, but they cannot find Saïd. As Khaled tries to find Saïd he bumps into Suha. She finds out about their plans and tries to persuade Khaled not to go through with the attack. They find Saïd at his father's grave. The next morning Saïd and Khaled set off once more on their mission. Khaled reveals he doesn't want to go through with it. Saïd pretends to agree with him but at the last moment escapes from Khaled and gets on a bus. The screen fades to white.
At the end of Rana's Wedding, his 2002 film about a young Palestinian woman frantically evading Israeli checkpoints to get to her wedding on time, director Hany Abu-Assad used an excerpt from the Palestinian activist-poet Mahmud Darwish: "Under siege, life is the moment between remembrance of the first moment and forgetfulness of the last." In Paradise Now Abu-Assad is still under siege, and this time exploring the circumstances that lead to two Palestinian friends becoming suicide bombers. Whereas his previous work (notably Rana's Wedding and the same year's Ford Transit) depicted the daily humiliations of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation with a mischievously upturned eyebrow, Paradise Now provides a discomfortingly intimate view of the conflict: it is an act of remembrance suffused with bitterness.
The film had a troubled production: it was shot largely on location in the West Bank town of Nablus at the height of the recent intifada; one of Abu-Assad's location managers was kidnapped by Palestinian militants; and his crew were repeatedly caught in the crossfire of gun battles between the Israeli army and Palestinian militias. So it is something of a triumph that it has made it to UK screens at all. Given its highly contentious subject matter (some 250 Israeli civilians have died in suicide attacks since January 2001), it is all the more remarkable for emerging as a deeply humanistic and compassionate work that avoids moralising or dogma. Best friends Saïd and Khaled are first shown passing their days working in a local garage, smoking shisha and sipping lukewarm coffee while looking out over their rambling town; the sound of distant gunfire punctuates their conversations. There are no visceral explosions or battles to signify the ongoing conflict, but rather mirage-like wisps of smoke in the background. The approach is indicative of all Abu-Assad's work, which favours subtlety over didactic bludgeoning.
Then, after this seemingly innocuous beginning, Saïd and Khaled are recruited by an unnamed Palestinian group to carry out a suicide mission in Tel Aviv. When Saïd takes his new and last employer Jamal home for dinner, his mother is quick to don her headscarf: the gesture is a silent yet unmistakable nod to the man's faith. But, bravely, Abu-Assad does not invoke religious fervour as the reasons for Saïd's readiness to die. Whereas Syriana showed vulnerable youths being recruited as suicide bombers by an insidious brand of Muslim fanaticism, in Paradise Now the trigger is more personal: Saïd's father was killed by his own people for collaborating with the Israelis; fundamentally, however, Saïd holds the Israeli occupation responsible for his father's death. The personal is made the political in the most emphatic manner.
For all the undoubted gravity of the dramatic situation, the director still allows himself moments of unexpected humour. In one scene, Khaled records his last will and testament, AK-47 and chequered kuffiyah held aloft in iconic revolutionary mode, only to have the gravity of the moment repeatedly interrupted by a malfunctioning video camera, his own desire to tell his mother where to buy cheap water filters and assembled militants noisily eating sandwiches in the background. Messy reality collides with the solemn business of myth-making.
Some critics have seen in the character of Suha, the affluent, western-raised daughter of a respected Palestinian martyr, the voice of reason: an objective plea for calm amid the maelstrom of an irrational, unwinnable war. Certainly, her scene with Khaled when they debate the rights and wrongs of suicide bombers is the closest the film comes to a political lecture.
Abu-Assad neither glorifies nor condones the tactic. But that didn't stop Israeli and US critics of Paradise Now from campaigning against its nomination for this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Film; they accused the film and film-maker of sympathising with terrorism. At the same time, Abu-Assad has found himself criticised in certain Palestinian circles for not portraying his doomed protagonists heroically enough.
If we are to judge the director by the company of his enemies, therefore, Paradise Now is not an exercise in propaganda. And the film is most powerful in its moments of lyrical reflection. As the two young heroes depart to Tel Aviv (now shockingly shorn of their lived-in beards and long hair, and baptised into sleek, clean-shaven walking time bombs), Saïd looks mournfully out of the window of the vehicle taking them to the border with Israel, the peaceful hills speeding behind him. It is an unspoken declaration of regret and longing for a land equally cursed and blessed, where the sight of a sun-soaked valley sits in jarring proximity to a smouldering block of rubble.
[SPOILERS] It's easy enough to chalk this film's festival success and (relatively) substantial commercial push to its charged subject matter, and to do so wouldn't be wrong. But there's an incoherence bedeviling Paradise Now that is truly bizarre, since it ironically serves to make the film more ingratiating. It begins as a kind of observational master-shot affair, its first ten minutes containing the only striking composition you'll see during the entire ninety. (This is the crooked bumper / boiling coffee shot, which is kind of a silly sequence in any case and, it could be argued although I won't press too hard on this, may have cribbed its visual gag from Suleiman's Divine Intervention.) Then it becomes a flirtation story, and then a procedural, and then a chase film, and then a platform for dueling political position papers, and then a sins-of-the-fathers disquisition, and finally it ends with a twist of sorts, one that actually reverses any logical character development established in the first hour. Although this scattershot construction leaves the analytical viewer with the impression that Abu-Assad isn't a particularly skilled craftsman, in the moment it can almost feel refreshing, as though he's a balls-out showman willing to try anything. I'll admit that the first part of the film rebuffed my attempts at engagement, but then once we hit the martyr-video sequence, Abu-Assad's unlikely gallows humor pulled me in, and I was able to stick it out from there. In fact, this much-remarked-upon sequence almost announced itself as Paradise Now's thematic linchpin -- the unacknowledged distance between representation and reality, and how Islamist dogma, like any ideological metanarrative, imposes itself like a matrix over daily life, eventually effacing the distinction between action and interpretation. But if this were really Abu-Assad's grand assertion, why have his two potential suicide bombers switch places, with Khaled the Islamist rhetor suddenly discovering gray areas, and Said, the more introspective man, becoming the eventual conduit for violence? It's as though each man's encounter with pacifist Western thought (in the form of an attractive, urbane French-Moroccan woman) turns their belief systems inside-out, by magic. How are we to read this film? If Said and Khaled are two men so ground down by the daily violence and humiliations of the occupation that they'll turn their bodies into bombs, how can they be so fickle? In a way, it's almost as though Abu-Assad is depicting a colonization of the mind, giving us a picture of Palestinians so desperate that they can't even maintain coherent beliefs over ninety minutes. But then again, Paradise Now operates as though it's a symptom of that same psychological malady.
Paradise Now and Route 181. By Richard Porton - Eyal Sivan Roads to Somewhere: Paradise Now, by Richard Porton from Cinema Scope (pdf format)
BFI | Sight & Sound | Bomb Culture B. Ruby Rich from Sight and Sound, April 2006
Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, by Jack G. Shaheen, book review by Christian Blauvelt from Jump Cut, Spring 2008
Abu-Assad, Hany interview by Gerald Peary
Palestine (96 mi) 2013 ‘Scope
Much of the fatalistic implications from this movie have the riveting feel of real life drama, as it depicts the improbable and near impossible mountain for Palestinians to climb to obtain respect and nationhood around the world, as this harrowing story of how deeply implanted the Israeli’s have infiltrated into every fabric of Palestinian life is a bit overwhelming at times. Part of the film’s power is how accurately it reflects life under occupation, and the futility of negotiating any peace agreement with the Israeli’s, as there’s little likelihood of any progress, as Israel has the Palestinians exactly where they want them, fractured, divided, powerless, and permanently economically disadvantaged, where they literally have to flee the country to find jobs and a new life elsewhere. If they stay, this film reflects, with stunning accuracy, the grim future that awaits them. Told with a searing intensity that recalls the near documentary portrait of Jacques Audiard’s brutal prison film 2010 Top Ten Films of the Year: #10 A Prophet (Un Prophète), this film depicts the horrible choices that will doom their futures, as young males can expect to be continually rounded up and arrested by Israeli police raids into the occupied territories where they are tortured into becoming informers for the Israeli secret police, the Shin Bet, whose motto is “Defender that shall not be seen” or “The unseen shield,” where they have little choice, as otherwise they’ll simply rot in prison on the mere suspicion of a crime. And if they are released, their own people suspect they are traitors, that they sold out someone in order to gain their freedom, as that’s the way the system works, so they’re damned either way. Making matters worse, they’re also humiliated and brutalized when picked up by the Palestinian police, as both sides continually suspect informers in their midst, so the political reality is a hyped up level of elevated paranoia and suspicion, where the legal system simply doesn’t allow due process, so you’re viewed as guilty unless you can prove otherwise, where in all likelihood freedom means you’ve informed on someone.
films beginning with RANA’S WEDDING (2002) depict the turmoil and daily
humiliations of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation, though FORD TRANSIT
(2003) is often hilarious and satirically charming, where young minibus cab
drivers, the most popular form of transportation in the occupied territories,
are viewed as local heroes in the reckless abandon on display in running a
black market business of contraband while avoiding Israeli checkpoints. The road from childhood friends to eventual
suicide bombers in PARADISE NOW (2005) reveals a discomfortingly yet altogether
human view of the conflict, something of a morality tale turning decidedly more
fatalistic, where one character suggests, “Under the occupation, we're already
dead.” OMAR, which won the Jury Prize
(Special Award) in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, is an outgrowth of
that philosophy, where young people growing up today are under no illusions,
yet they’re driven to be freedom fighters by a shattered and disintegrated
culture desperate to survive, refusing to live under the thumb of the Israeli’s
even as they’re forced to on a daily basis.
This Kafkaesque existence of life under siege is impossible to
comprehend anywhere else in the world except here, where there is little
alternative except to fight back. Adam
Bakri as Omar couldn’t be more enthusiastically energetic as he scales a rope
attached to the top of the 30-foot Wall of the Israeli West Bank barrier to visit his
girlfriend, constantly seen on the run where he dodges in and out of narrow
streets eluding police, even performing acrobatic roof jumps, navigating a
circuitous path to the home of best friend Tarek (Eyad Hourani), where he sips
tea while passing notes back and forth with his attractive sister Nadja (Leem
Lubany), the real object of his desire.
Secretly he pursues a romantic life together, while at the same time he
and Tarek, along with another childhood friend Amjad (Samer Bisharat), plot
radical acts of revenge against the continuing presence of Israeli occupiers,
culminating in the sniper killing of a border policeman. Not long afterwards, Omar is picked up in an
Israeli commando-style military raid in the
What starts out so
romantic and brightly optimistic turns suddenly dark and graphically ugly when
Omar is brutally tortured, along with nearly all of the other Palestinian
prisoners, where life on the inside of a prison is admittedly dour and
hopeless. While they’re looking for the
triggerman of the shooting, Omar’s hopes rest with a lack of evidence, but
those hopes are dashed when a planted fellow inmate records him claiming he
would never confess, something that in this depraved part of the world is as
good as a conviction, considered guilt by association, as it suggests he has
something to confess. This bizarre legal
reasoning leaves him sentenced to 90-years, where lawyers have no influence on
the outcome. In a stunning metaphor for
current Palestinian-Israeli relations, Omar’s options are slim to none, as he
can die in prison, a noble believer in the cause but an ineffectual and
forgotten entity in an endless struggle, or he can be recruited by the Shin Bet
to become an informer, ultimately betraying the only cause he’s ever believed
in. The Israeli handler, Agent Rami
(Waleed F. Zuaiter), is an equally complex figure, as he’s highly intelligent
and continually shows genuine empathy for Omar’s precarious position, where he
becomes the only person who knows the truth about Omar, perhaps his only
friend, but he’s like a mouse in a trap, as there is no escaping the clutches of
the secret police. Once released, on an
assignment to set up his friend Tarek, he immediately comes under suspicion in
his own community, as they suddenly have their doubts about one of their own. Whatever his dreams and ambitions may have
been about being a force for Palestinian freedom have suddenly been undermined
by a deal with the devil. While he hopes
to sort this out on the other side, picking up where he left off with Nadja,
making plans to marry her, but things don’t go as planned, where he winds up
right back in prison with an even slimmer opportunity to get out. What’s interesting is the degree of personal
intimacy in the conversations between Omar and Rami, which (much like
negotiations) rely upon a trust factor, even as they secretly hate and mistrust
one another’s real intentions, yet they are destined to play out this sick game
together, as Omar insists he can deliver the goods. But once back on the street he’s become a
walking pariah, where no one wants to be seen with him, where he does fit the
description of the quote from
While the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire has some inspired some distinguished non-fiction films since the dawn of the 21st century—notably Michel Khleifi and Eyal Sivan’s Route 181; Fragments of a Journey in Palestine-Israel, which remains one of the least seen important documentaries of the last decade—most features tackling this intractable conflict are disappointingly mediocre. Made by a Palestinian director who resides in the Netherlands, Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar is a relatively undidactic take on the lives of ordinary Palestinians with no choice but to endure the indignities imposed by the constraints of Israel’s “separation wall.” Less schematic and overdetermined than Abu-Assad’s overrated Paradise Now, the film’s impact is nevertheless compromised by its failure to resolve whether it wants to be a nail-biting thriller, a trenchant character study, or an indictment of recent Israeli policy. Truth be told, it’s most successful as a character study: the eponymous hero, devoted to his girlfriend who resides on the other side of the separation wall, wanting to leave a normal life but driven by a commitment to the armed resistance movement, is a prime target for recruitment as a double agent by the Shin Bet. Only a party pooper would reveal the climactic plot twist that makes Omar’s revenge on his tormentors satisfyingly sweet—and, at least fleetingly, prevents this uneven film from being just another well-intentioned but entirely predictable political thriller.
Tragedy and betrayal swirl around Palestinian writer/director Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar, a contemporary thriller/melodrama that sheds further light on the simmering tensions existing in the Middle East. While Assad has tackled this milieu before, most notably in Paradise Now (2005), Omar is yet another eye-opening look into the violence that desperation often spawns via the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Paradise Now grimly tackled the morality of two would-be suicide bombers, Omar explores a similar stripping away of humanity in a much more relatable way, especially through a sprinkling of dark humor and the inclusion of a romantic angle.
Caught in the dual cross-hairs of allegiance and disloyalty is Omar (Adam Bakri), a young Palestinian baker who feels the pressures of love and loyalty weighing down on him: He wishes to marry a high school girl, Najda (Leem Lubany), but is hesitant on running the idea past her brother (and Omar’s friend) Tarek (Eyad Hourani). The two, alongside another childhood pal Amjad (Samer Bisharat) act as freedom fighters, plotting to kill an Israeli soldier. After the trio succeeds, and with Amjad pulling the trigger, Omar is eventually nabbed by Israeli forces, led by Agent Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter). Omar is eventually tricked into an admission of guilt and made informant to bring in Tarek (the group leader) in exchange for his own freedom.
After being released, Omar has a month to complete his task, but things are further complicated when Tarek discovers Omar’s assistance on a planned ambush. We’re left to wonder where Omar’s true loyalties lie as he must maintain this increasingly hard balance act to bide time with the Israeli forces and maintain the trust of his friends. All the while, Omar continues to drop in on Najda to make their relationship known to Tarek. While the couple’s romance is easily the weakest and most undeveloped section of the film, the actors make amends and sustain plausibility with their subtle performances.
The heavily plotted last hour of the film manages to venture down a familiar narrative path, but with Abu-Assad’s assured direction and Bakri’s layered performance, Omar achieves an agreeable freshness that overcomes its potential schematic feel. The film’s numerous suspense set pieces, mostly on-foot chase scenes, sport a clearly defined sense of location and space that help them move in a rhythmic fashion. Bakri is a talent to watch not only for his ability to evoke both mystery and sympathy, but for his impressive physicality as well, whether he’s fiercely dodging law enforcement or scaling walls.
While Abu-Assad’s film never quite transcends its political trappings, Omar still works because of its commitment to a refreshingly humanist worldview. Omar is a film not about choosing sides, but instead a drama about the human cost of living under such a brutal occupation.
Omar / The Dissolve Jordan Hoffman
The first image in Omar is a wall. For viewers from another planet—or those who don’t read the world-news section of the paper—next to nothing in the movie explicitly indicates that this is the separation barrier between Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories of the West Bank. This lack of context is an effective creative choice. Given that this is a film about a very specific political situation, with lifetimes of scholarship and signifiers behind it, writer-director Hany Abu-Assad made a bold decision in pulling back and going broad. If not for one shot including an Israeli flag, the movie could work as a universal tone-poem about the fraying resolve of freedom fighters, and how they’re defeated by stronger forces.
But few people with such an uninterested worldview will ever see this movie, and Abu-Assad’s cinematic take isn’t so revolutionary that it can rewire thinking. This isn’t The Battle Of Algiers, it’s a small-scale drama about a hard-to-pin-down individual in an intractable battle far greater than he is.
Ambiguous protagonists are, by now, something of Abu-Assad’s stock in trade. 2005’s controversial Paradise Now, a portrait of two would-be suicide bombers made when terrorist attacks inside of Israel were more common, dared to try and humanize these evildoers, as many Westerners were calling them then. When Omar (Adam Bakri) is introduced, he seems more interested in stealing time away with his gal pal Nadia (Leem Lubany) than waging asymmetric war. He’s eventually pushed—allows himself to be pushed? chooses to get pushed?—along the path toward martyrdom.
Omar is part of a small cell, run by Nadia’s older brother Tarek (Iyad Hoorani), which includes his chum Amjad (Samer Bisharat), a jokester who’s a little shy and also has the hots for Nadia. The three pull off an operation wherein they shoot an Israeli soldier. Assad films this through the gun’s sight, with the three men chattering as they pick off a target at random. The wrong-place/wrong-time nature of the particular soldier’s death is surprising. Even the most rabid anti-Zionist partisan would agree that the affair seems to lack in glory.
The deed quickly comes back to haunt the group. Moles are everywhere; nothing gets past the Israeli secret police. Omar is soon picked up, tortured, and tricked into giving a quasi-confession. Amjad pulled the trigger, but the man the Israelis really want is Tarek. In short order, and much to his own amazement, Omar ends up working as an informer to save his own skin. His Shin Bet handler Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter) starts spinning him in circles, and the pair share one of the film’s sole moments of levity, discussing Spider-Man. (Omar is given to moments of brooding solitude, and since he works at a bakery, there’s ample time to watch pita bread rise in a hot coal oven of symbolism.)
With torn allegiances, Omar tries to stay one step ahead of everyone—or at least that’s what he appears to be doing, as Abu-Assad’s reserved approach goes to great lengths to keep Omar’s true feelings distant. Still, anyone who has seen a cop movie knows this isn’t going to go well. A third-act twist, however, is unexpected enough that it ought to brush aside any plot complaints like “If the Shin Bet is just so all-seeing and all-knowing, why do they need Omar to track down Tarek in the first place?”
Apart from the acceptable length of time that can elapse before you give a wedding present, the Israel-Palestine debate is among the world’s thornier and most intractable issues. It’s clear Omar thinks he’s a freedom fighter, but does the film with his name in the title think he’s a freedom fighter? Abu-Assad’s stance on killing Israelis, if he is meant to stand for the voice of the film, is open to interpretation.
The writer-director chooses to show only what Omar sees. Omar is harassed by border police, but the film offers zero context as to why there needs to be border police in the first place. Abu-Assad has ample cover in simply telling a character’s story, but given the realpolitik of this conflict, the words of the great poet-philosopher Neil Peart come to mind: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
A moralistic gray zone is good for business, though, at least with a foreign-language film trying to penetrate the American market. Regardless of whether the film and Abu-Assad advocate the characters’ actions will lead to post-screening discussion, perhaps more than the meat of the film itself. For what it’s worth, the self-identified Palestinian Hany Abu-Assad carries Israeli citizenship, and spent much of his life in the Netherlands. This is undeniably juicy packaging for what is, at its core, a good but not great crime drama. Of further note, two more upcoming films, Bethlehem and The Green Prince, both Israeli productions (the latter a documentary), are also about Palestinian informants with Shin Bet. Could make quite the triple feature.
Omar | Reverse Shot Michael Koresky
PopMatters Cynthia Fuchs
Review: 2014 Best Foreign Film Oscar Nominee 'Omar'|The ... Gabe Toro from The Playlist
Critics At Large : Art vs. Propaganda: Bethlehem and Omar Shlomo Schwartzberg
[NYFF Review] Omar - The Film Stage Forrest Cardamenis
Hot Property: Omar | Film Comment Nicolas Rapold
Interview: Hany Abu-Assad Talks OMAR And The ... - Twitch Dustin Chang interview from Twitch, February 20, 2014
The Luxury of Unhappiness: Director Hany Abu-Assad Talks Omar ... Livia Bloom interview from Filmmakers magazine, February 24, 2014
Interview: Hany Abu-Assad | Film Comment Nicolas Rapold interview, February 24, 2014
Omar: Cannes Review - The Hollywood Reporter Deborah Young
'Omar' movie review - The Washington Post Ann Hornaday
Review: 'Omar' - Featured Articles From The Los Angeles ... Betsy Sharkey from The LA Times
A thoroughly detestable film, one that is based on exploring extreme family instability, adapted from the Timothy Findley novel The Last of the Crazy People, this setting is confined to the strange rural inhabitants living in a run down farm that they are having a difficult time trying to sell. The look of the farmhouse is identical to Haneke’s dream flashback to his childhood home in CACHÉ, where even the shot from the shadows of the barn (of an ax) with a view of the house across an open expanse looks the same. Following that train of thought, it could be a possible extension of that same story through the perspective of the young Algerian child, who is seen throughout this film. Julien Cochelin plays Martin, a silent, droopy eyed 10-year old Algerian kid who has the run of the premises with little, if any, supervision, providing a near voyeuristic perspective, as the camera follows his eyes throughout the film. His mother may actually be the Algerian housekeeper to this seriously dysfunctional white French family that seem to be in a constant state of decay, which features a mother locked away in a room due to her psychosis or dementia, gazing at nothing for long periods of time, or screaming at the top of her lungs at others, where Martin, alleged to be her son, is not allowed admittance to her room. Her weak-kneed husband works the farm, while his mother is a busybody who criticizes anything and everything around her but is apparently running the financial end into ruin, remaining in a constant state of dissatisfaction, while their older son Didier is a closeted gay who fancies himself as a writer but is in an emotional tailspin after his lover is about to marry someone else, so he wastes his time flailing away drinking beer. No one is happy with anyone else, reflected by recurring offscreen episodes of extreme noise and violence, usually with Martin sitting there in the kitchen absorbing it all. This happens so frequently that it becomes unintentionally amusing, as the accentuated mood of hysteria is so wretchedly contrived that the film, even without any musical score, loses any sense of naturalness in this setting, as if there may be missing aliens in the attic. Instead every scene leads to a kind of gloomy melodramatic world of unreality. Watching this film deteriorate is pure drudgery, as the inevitable signs of a breakdown of all order only get worse, culminating in a finality of apocalyptic proportions. Anyone care to wait for this to happen? And even if they do, does it prove anything? Are we better off having experienced this?
A 10-year-old watches as his highly strung, bankrupted rural family slowly unravels during the course of a summer. Bleak, overwrought drama that lavishes intense performances and highly stylized, formalist handling on a somewhat hysterical version of Cold Comfort Farm.
Festival of New French Cinema Andrea Gronvall from the Reader
Timothy Findley’s Canadian novel The Last of the Crazy People was the source
material for this moody 2006 psychodrama by Laurent Achard, who’s changed the
Festival of New French Cinema Diane Eberhardt from Facets
disintegration of a country family is seen through the wide-open eyes of a
young boy. With a mentally unstable mother who never leaves her room, a
helpless and passive father, a controlling grandmother, a love-sick brother who
turns to alcohol and violence and a new friend who betrays him, eleven year-old
Martin (Julien Cochelin) finds little solace in life on this run-down farm,
other than in the bond he shares with the housekeeper and the company of his
cat. This spare film is replete with a quiet anxiety, where the mounting
despair is portrayed in carefully constructed, precise scenes, whose minimal
action is starkly contrasted within an austere Gothic drama. Directed by
"A lightning bolt in the sky of emerging French
"Corrosively austere...Achard ratchets up the tension with chilling control"
WINNER Best Directing & Jury Prize
The interest here is in how director Laurent Achard resolutely (with only one exception) restricts the narrative viewpoint to that of 10-year-old Martin, the film’s verbally inexpressive loner protagonist. So, in What Maisie Knew mode, we bear witness with Martin to the events taking place on the rundown family farm, events that are in the main beyond his understanding: his alcoholic, disturbed mother who locks herself away in her room; his vindictive grandmother; his weak father, who appears to be sleeping with his mother-in-law (Achard lets out this kind of narrative information in subtle, incremental stages); his gay would-be writer brother on the path to psychological meltdown.
But the strength of this restricted point-of-view also ends up being something of a weakness. We end up being too much in advance of Martin’s knowledge of the world around him (it’s different with literature – with Maisie James controls the feed of language to us so that we experience the events with Maisie but simultaneously understand more than she does). The result is that there is a certain plodding predictability to the later part of the film and its violent climax.
It was apparently very hard for Laurent Achard to archive his strange
cinematographic new project : almost ten years have passed since his last movie
"Plus qu'hier, moins que demain", released in 1998. And when you see
"Le dernier des fous", it's not really hard to understand why it took
so much time to convinced a producer to put some money in the project : if its
story is quite classic for a french "film d'auteur", its style is so
arid (there is no music, but only sour, experimental, distorted and natural
noises ; most of the time, the frame stay still, and the sequences could be
very long, as if time stops for minutes, etc.), that it's certainly almost as
difficult to watch than it was to make.
The movie deals with a family crisis (with everything a french psycho drama is able to offer : a crazy mother, a homosexual and depressive son, an absent father, and so on...) setting in the french country. All the events are view through the eyes of the younger soon, who passively watch his world collapsed. First interesting point is that the movie never leave this point of view, and make everything seems quite unreal, for we don't see an objective reality, but we're always in the mind of this strange little kid. And the fact that this is a mental movie allows the plot to take another direction, and then fallows stranger and original paths. That's why the all the movie is between realism and fantastic, and even naturalism and horror, and tries to stay in that border. But if this experience is very interesting, it's not really satisfying.
The story, the situations, even the style, has everything to see with french naturalism : the movie sometimes reminded me the psycho drama of Téchiné or Piallat, or even "Mes Petites amoureuses" from Eustache (because of some scenes between the child and his older neighbor). But the naturalist way is disturbed by a fantastic tone, where the characters seem deformed (like the mother or the maid of the neighbor), and sometimes look like monsters. You constantly have the feeling (like the older brother said), that something horrible is about to happened. Then, the movie is closer to realistic fantastic like Bava than classical french sociological study. The family really looks like a disturb bunch of freaks, almost as strange as the family of Miike's "Visitor Q".
But the thing is that the mixture doesn't really work, for, as the movie always tries to stay at the border of the two genres, it doesn't really fit anywhere, and seems somehow unfinished, for it doesn't actualized its pretensions. The naturalist way is like suppress by the fantastic elements, as if the movie couldn't assume to the end the fact that it is a french "film d'auteur". And the same thing goes with the fantastic and horror way : for it is also a realistic movie, nothing fantastic never really happened. It's as if the mix of the two elements, instead of increasing the impact of the two, suppress the both.
But there is no doubt, that if the movie is hard to watch (it's sometimes boring and annoying) it sticks to your mind for a long time, and some frames (the distorted face of the mother, the sour and loud atmosphere, the loneliness of the characters, etc.) comes to haunt you back, long after the screening.
A family's madness and despair are seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy in the bleak French-Belgian gothic drama "Demented." Gallic helmer Laurent Achard ("More Than Yesterday"), who won a best director gong at the recent Locarno fest for this, opts for a corrosively austere, score-free aesthetic that spotlights the intense perfs at its heart, especially from deadpan Julien Cochelin in the lead. However, despite its bravura qualities, plot trajectory may prove too much of a major downer for most auds. Pic will need fest exposure, critical support and further kudos to break out of niche asylums.
Adapted from 1967 novel "The Last of the Crazy People" by Canadian scribe Timothy Findley, script by Achard and Nathalie Najem seamlessly transposes action from mid-'60s small-town Canada to contempo rural France.
Book flows out of internal monologues from its young protagonist, but in the screen version, young Martin (Cochelin), rarely speaks. Still, his point-of-view almost entirely structures the action as he watches from the sidelines or listens from another room as his family falls apart.
In a large, dilapidated farmhouse that the brood clearly can't afford to keep up, Martin's semi-catatonic mother Nadege (Dominique Reymond, another memorably suffering mom in "Will It Snow for Christmas?") has locked herself in her room and won't even speak to her bewildered husband Jean (Jean-Yves Chatelais).
Unsympathetic to Nadege's plight, Jean's mother Rose (veteran Annie Cordy) has taken on the role of the lady of the house.
Meanwhile, Martin overhears the sound of kissing in the barn where his older brother Didier (Pascal Cervo, from "More Than Yesterday") has been having an affair with a neighbor boy, who is now planning to marry a local girl. News of the nuptials sends Didier into an alcoholic tailspin of despair.
Only Malika (Fettouma Bouamari), the family's Arab housekeeper, and occasionally Didier pay attention to the watchful, too-still Martin.
The discovery of a handgun in a neighbor's house lays the way for a last-act tragedy, but the tone is more akin to William Faulkner or Racine than a sermon on the evils of firearms from Michael Moore. Climax may prove either too harrowingly brutal or over-the-top for some auds' taste, but last scene's use of sound is nevertheless impressively expressionistic in itself. Before this, occasional stabs of welcome humor lighten the atmosphere.
Using mostly medium and long shots to create a detached sense of emotional distance, Achard ratchets up the tension with chilling control as the traumas pile up on Martin's head.
Only once does pic diverge from his viewpoint, for an unnecessary scene in which Didier burns his journals, but Cervo's acting is so strong here that the digression is forgivable. Cochelin -- with his wide-spaced eyes, one lid always slightly droopy -- has a mesmeric, otherworldly presence.
(Two sections with intermission. Part 1 : Thought Control in Democratic Societies [95 mins]. Part 2 : Activating Dissent [72 mins])
In Copenhagen with a couple of hours to kill before dinner, suffering from a
cold, and a hangover, on a damp and dark day in December, I headed for the Film
Institute to catch what I thought was going to be an 85-minute documentary on
Noam Chomsky. 95 minutes later, the caption came up announcing the end of Part
1. Intermission, then the second half. Looking at my watch, I realised that, as
I’d seen enough of Manufacturing Consent to know that it wasn’t going to get a great deal better in the second half – not that the first half was especially poor. It was just that I was tired of the dichotomy between the strength of Chomsky’s ideas – which are fascinating and urgent in whatever medium they’re expressed (I have a split 7” single he did with Bad Religion to prove that point) – and the often asinine weakness of their presentation, courtesy of Canadian directors Wintonick and Achbar.
The idea of editing together many of Chomsky’s appearances on worldwide TV and radio over 25 years is an excellent one, and the film-makers must be applauded for the great range of clips they’ve accumulated. But it’s very frustrating that whenever Chomsky is questioned or taken on, the ‘opposition’ is shown in very brief clips – especially since these moments, featuring the likes of Tom Wolfe and William F Buckley, are among the most entertaining in the whole film.
And why on earth did they Wintonick and Achbar feel it necessary to ‘improve’ Chomsky’s delivery with their array of cack-handed tricks and gimmicks. Whenever anybody says anything especially important, KEY PHRASES are flashed up on screen in block capitals, and they stay there for a few seconds to ensure that they’ve SUNK IN. This isn’t the only instance of the directors doing the opposite of what is Chomsky’s main message here, namely the importance of everyone thinking for themselves.
Seldom does Chomsky get to speak more than a couple of sentences, for
instance before we cut to howlingly prosaic stock-footage or stills to show us
exactly what he’s talking about, just in case we couldn’t work it out for
ourselves. The style of the movie is a great shame, because its content is
often dynamite – the
While Wintonick isn’t quite a camera-hogging Nick Broomfield or Michael
Moore figure, by the end of the first part of Manufacturing Consent, the
audience may well be rather too familiar with his bulky frame and geeky
haircut. The Michael Moore comparison is especially useful with regards to Manufacturing
Consent, as the film shares much ground with
Yes my friends, it is
While I would have to be willfully blinkered to think we're getting the whole
picture here, one of this film's strengths (aside from clear argumentation and
meticulous research) is the fact that corporate insiders (former CEOs,
child-marketing experts, "undercover" advertising specialists,
commodities traders) line up to tell their side of the story. Some doozies are
contained therein; the "nagging study" was a jaw-dropper. But more
than what they say, their blithe indifference to the filmmakers' project tells
the story, and shows why a film that takes on the corporate-capitalist
structure is in some ways destined to succeed where
COME EARLY MORNING B+ 90
A quiet, reflective film that beautifully captures the nuances of small town life in the rural South of Arkansas, shot by David Gordon Green's cinematographer Tim Orr, opening with the familiar song by Malcomb Holcombe, "Killing the Blues," from THE SLAUGHTER RULE. Ashley Judd as Lucy is in nearly every scene wearing no make up as a tightly wound, highly independent woman who enjoys her space, drinking beer, and sleeping with most every guy in town, then acting like nothing matters. The cast is superb, including Scott Wilson as her ultra reclusive father, who had a history of being a great guitar player, but needed to be drunk before he could play, who despite never leaving town has been all but absent in her life, Diane Ladd as the abused spouse in a pitiful relationship with her long term spouse where love dried up decades ago, the brilliant Tim Blake Nelson in a small but pitch perfect performance as Lucy's uncle who fills in the missing pieces of her past, and Stacy Keach as the aging contractor Lucy has been working with for the past 8 years.
Lucy obviously drinks too much, spends aimless time in roadhouse bars, goes home with whoever and slinks home early the next morning without a shred of dignity left to her name. In one of the best observed sequences, she and her father unpretentiously visit a Holy Roller southern Baptist church on Sundays, with a young but wise preacher, featuring plenty of rocking music and swaying souls, while another sequence where she volunteers at the local nursing home gets swallowed up in the final edit, losing a bit of the continuity of the story. Into Lucy's life walks Cal, Jeffrey Donovan, who is so straight he could easily be Bo from BUS STOP, something of a good 'ol boy car nut from out of town who unexpectedly treats her kindly, embarrassing Lucy into not just walking away for a change, though she's obviously uncomfortable with relationships. Her cool, mysterious and privately respectful room-mate, Laura Prepon, a tall, beautiful blond who could be the lead in another film, urges her to take this guy more seriously, opening up avenues that never existed before.
There's an interesting country soundtrack, a nicely paced rhythm with interweaving plotlines that never overreach, that becomes heartfelt and emotionally involving while maintaining a politeness and texture of the locale, even including the bored, haggard looking grocery clerk smoking a cigarette, continuing a neverending conversation with each customer that she knows by name, in a town where no one is a stranger, no one carries any secrets, and most people have been up and down every road many times before. This is an honest, intimate, low-key examination of a woman's journey through the quaint familiarity of her town, hoping to find some resemblance of self respect on her road to redemption.
Maren Ade came on 12 Dezember 1976 in Karlsruhe zur Welt. Even with 14 years of experimenting with the video camera, and at 18 she made with her then-boyfriend a first short film. From 1998 to 2004 she studied at the Academy of Television and Film in Munich, in 2003 she made her final film, "The forest for the trees" , which premiered at the Hof Film Days. While still a student, she founded with her fellow student Janine Jackowski the firm "complicit Movie. In addition to her own films, she has hot movie "Hotel Very Welcome" produced Sonja, in which backpackers in Asia is about. 2003 Maren Ade moved to Berlin in Berlin with other filmmakers and filmmakers such as Ulrich Köhler, Henner Winckler or Valeska Grisebach it is in close connection. "All Others" is her second feature film, it's about a couple on holiday, the meeting with another couple from the balance brought by the. Birgit Minichmayr and Lars Eidinger play the leading roles. "All others" is this coming Monday in the Berlinale competition show where the film 17 other productions for the Golden Bears compete with.
Maren Ade - filmportal.de brief bio
Maren Ade Mubi
Interview with Maren Ade .: the Lamp Catherine MacLennan interview from The Lamp, November 2004
Berlinale 2009: Interview with Maren Ade Kevin Lee interview February 25, 2009
“A delicate psychological dramaturgy” Ruediger Suchsland interview from Cineuropa, June 11, 2009
Village Voice (Aaron Hillis) review Hillis interviews the director, September 29, 2009
Couples Chaos: German Director Maren Ade Talks About Everyone Else ... Scott Foundas feature and interview from LA Weekly, October 28, 2009
THE FOREST FOR THE TREES (Der Wald vor lauter Bäumen) B 88
For roughly 75 minutes of its brisk 81-minute running time, The Forest for the Trees is nothing more or less than a sharply-written, well-observed, DV-shot, small-scale character study of a 27-year-old teacher struggling to adapt to a new school in sleepy Karlsruhe. When we first see Melanie Proschle (Eva Lobau), she's breaking up with Bernd (Achim Enchelmaier), her boyfriend of eight years, and departing for a different life in a different town. Like the corny joke about the cross-eyed teacher, Melanie has difficulty controlling her pupils – and her lack of social skills mean shehas problems making new friends. Seemingly oblivious to the eager advances of her work-colleague Thorsten (Jan Neumann), she instead fixes upon her (comparatively) glamorous neighbour Tina (Daniela Holtz), who works in a fashion boutique. Melanie's devious campaign to win Tina's friendship seems to pay dividends – for a time…
If the film ended abruptly at the 75-minute mark, it would still be a "should-see" – accomplished and engrossing, though nothing too far out of the ordinary. Let's say 7 out of 10. But the final three minutes (before the credits) are something else again – lifting The Forest for the Trees firmly into the "must-see" category. Completely out of the blue, and with the simplest of means, Ade delivers a genuine coup de cinema: thrillingly transcendent, disarmingly magical, transfiguring everything that's gone before (the closest recent parallel is with another German picture, Christian Petzold's The State I Am In). This review will not reveal the details of these closing minutes, but will instead support Canadian critic Mark Peranson who, in a review which astutely anaylses the progress of Ade's debut from student-project obscurity to globetrotting festival-fave, acclaims "the best ending of the year."
At a stroke, Ade dissolves whatever objections we may have harboured to her subject-matter and approach: the haplessly square, dowdy, jittery Melanie has been scrutinised and dissected rather like a dysfunctional lab-rat, a species lacking some crucial chromosome and dimly aware of the deficiency. Lobau's performance is, if anything, too convincing: there's a genuinely uncomfortable awkwardness about the way Melanie instinctively does the worst possible thing in any given situation, a portion of which derives from a suspicion that Ade is being patronising and condescending to those less fortunate than herself. But while we may never actually like Melanie, or might even squirm in her company, as the film goes on we do see she's deserving of sympathy – she's clearly struggling to cope with the ending of her relationship with Bernd (though she herself 'broke it off'), and is plopped down into a tricky set of pupils mid-way through a term. Melanie lacks support: both in her private and professional lives, and if nothing else she deserves some admiration for the way she so valiantly struggles to hold everything together. It's ironic, then, that the moment when we really identify with and understand her character is the glorious moment at the end when she finally realise that, sometimes, you have to just – let – go.
The Forest for the Trees (Maren Ade, Germany) by Mark Peranson ... from Cinema Scope, also here: by mark peranson
Strictly Film School review Acquarello
Film Intuition Jen Johans
BBCi - Films Jamie Woolley
Germany (119 mi) 2009
The ultimate break-up film, shown here in a deliciously slow burn of insecurities, everything that the highly acclaimed, warm and nostalgia-tinged Olivier Assayas SUMMER HOURS (2008) pretended to be but was “not,” a scathing exposé of social convention, showing the hypocrisy and emptiness of a couple that, like the Wheeler’s in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (2008), want to be unconventional, that doesn’t want to be like “everyone else.” An extremely provocative film, well-written and intelligently directed by Ade, choosing unusually ordinary or uninteresting lead characters as her subject, a mirror image for the audience to identify with, a self-centered and bored German middle class couple, yet they are onscreen the entire length of the film together, rarely more than arms length away from one another. With six years between films, plenty of time has passed, yet the distinctive finale of Ade’s last film is still fresh in the viewer’s minds, as the disturbing ambiguity remains unsettling to this day. In THE FOREST FOR THE TREES (2003), all signs indicate a perfectly ordinary middle class setting, but as the director gets inside the head of a well-meaning teacher who can’t control her class, signs point to a psychological breakdown which the director meticulously details, where one might call Ade an on-the–fringe miserablist, though not full-fledged like Austrian Ulrich Seidl. Both show a fondness for documentary realism, then embellishing the prevailing social order with remarkably downbeat unpleasantries. As French director Claude Chabrol passed away this week, I’d like to point out the similarities with his style early in his career, especially the amazingly realistic LES BONNES FEMMES (1960), which for all practical purposes was a breezy lightweight comedy until the final reel which completely re-contextualized everything that came before. That film was half a century ago, targeting the boredom of lower class working girls all at the same dead end job, an appliance store with few if any customers, while this film sets its sights on the economically successful, well-to-do German middle class, where they encounter so few hardships in their lifetimes that they lose the ability to express dissatisfaction, as they’re always expected to be happy doing whatever they choose, yet freedom becomes a weight they carry on their shoulders. What’s compelling about the film is the evaporation of the supposed happiness that exists between this couple that hops in the sack at one moment and then has next to nothing to say afterwards or even well into the next day, where their specialty becomes cutting each other to shreds, where they fall under a blistering attack of acid-tinged criticisms hurled with the precision and accuracy of heat-seeking missiles.
Lars Eidinger is Chris, who is the picture of proper rearing, as he’s intelligent, well-mannered, reserved, polite, soft-spoken, self-aware, yet distant, vacuous, aloof, and unreachable, the kind of guy who always has a book in his hand but has a hard time expressing his ideas. He fancies himself as an architect, but he hasn’t really broken into the field just yet and has few job offers, so he’s likely still supported by his parents, who are unseen, but their presence is everywhere, as the couple is vacationing at his parent’s villa on the island of Sardinia, and the house reflects his parent’s bourgeois taste. Birgit Minichmayr is Gitta, the much more unconventional and outgoing between the two, an impulsive girl that has no problem whatsoever speaking what’s on her mind, and can be seen in an early scene interacting with the young daughter of Chris’s sister, urging her to communicate her real feelings, to come right out and say “I hate your guts,” or “I despise you,” eventually pretending to be shot by this kid, falling into the pool acting dead. It’s a humorous scene the way it’s presented, especially with a charming little girl who plays along, but the same theme continues to play out in various permutations between the couple for the rest of the film. Their interplay, however, is so naturalistic and their real feelings so disguised that at times you can barely tell there’s tension in the air. And that’s exactly how the characters see it as well, blind to what’s obvious, and not looking to dig deep enough to uncover what’s under the surface. The focus of the camera is intimacy, zeroing in on an accumulation of tiny details while capturing the couple in close proximity, always within eye contact, but rarely actually looking at each other. Gitta continuously confesses her love and never leaves this guy’s side, annoying him with her suffocating presence, yet she’s obviously well-intentioned and has a sexy charm about her possessiveness. Chris, on the other hand, is more indecisive and aimless and needs room, plenty of it, and the island itself is a visual paradise with what appears to be tropical trees, a jungle-like forest with high grass, and an ocean nearby. You’d think anyone could get lost in that Edenesque atmosphere, but with these two, it’s like they’re either the first or last two people remaining on earth just waiting for someone to hand them an apple, as they couldn’t be less optimistic about their future together.
It’s interesting the way Ade chooses to test this couple, as it’s with a stereotypical boorish German male, Hans, actually named Hans-Jochen Wagner, an established architect who’s loud, obnoxious, opinionated and totally condescending, yet he’s continually seeking out Chris as if they’re old school friends. Chris, on the other hand, has a near phobic desire not to be seen by Hans and is successful for half the film, but once they meet, it’s clear Hans is handing them the apple, as Chris immediately defers to Han’s smug masculinity and sucks the toxic fumes of his pig-headed and overbearing nature, accepting without return a volley of insults directed at himself and Gitta, all with a patronizing air of superiority, where Gitta rises to his defense, but is then abandoned by Chris who thinks her unconventional and outspoken honesty is out of line. Hans calls her a Brünnhilde defending her man, a reference to the sword carrying, war-like maiden in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which is nothing more than insulting name-calling, one German stereotyping another with an unflattering Nazi-tinged label. But Chris seems to think it’s OK for Hans to joke around with demeaning insults all told with a smile, but not for Gitta to call him on his noxious contempt for others. In other words, it’s socially acceptable to insult and disparage others so long as it’s only words, where the manner in which it’s spoken trumps the meaning behind it. Chris then falls in line with the odious and egotistic behavior of Hans and leaves Gitta dangling on her own. In perhaps the scene of the film, Chris invites Hans and his more shallow pregnant girlfriend Sana (Nicole Marischka) over for dinner, a social makeup for Gitta’s previous overly blunt outspokenness, where after dinner they show the couple his parent’s villa, carrying drinks up into his mother’s room where Hans immediately disparages his mother’s taste as well, but she’s got a “cool” stereo, which plays the German version of Barry Manilow or Neil Diamond, a live version of Grönemeyer singing a typically popular mainstream love song, “Ich hab dich lieb.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VlmB3YWnc8) Sana reveals her middle-of-the-road mainstream streak as she’s enchanted by the nostalgic simplicity of idealized love, where she and Hans embrace all affectionately over the cheesy lyrics while Chris and Gitta, shown on each side of the perfectly composed frame, may as well be light years away. That shot alone expresses with poetic clarity just how difficult it is to authentically connect with someone else, because this couple wouldn’t be caught dead with cheap sentiment, but without it, they’re lost in a no man’s land with nothing to connect them together, each stuck inside their own heads instead of one another’s. Revealing a bonanza of rarely seen truths onscreen, there’s something reminiscent of Bruno Dumont’s contrasting 29 PALMS (2003), featuring a superficial relationship held together by nothing much more than sex, shown as not much of a defense on a desert-like road to nowhere, but here in the luscious palms of a tropical paradise, these much more sharp edged and carefully nuanced characters actually attempt to communicate but fail just as miserably.
Time Out New York review [3/5] Keith Uhlich
Maren Ade’s difficult relationship drama drops us into the middle of a sun-dappled, nondescript locale (it appears to be a summer vacation home) where several perplexing sequences unfold: Gitti (Minichmayr) has a hilarious “argument” with a child, ordering the girl to scream “I hate you!” with increasing venom, while her boyfriend, Chris (Eidinger), smiles from afar. Then Chris shapes a piece of gingerroot into a bulbous-nose effigy that he playfully uses with Gitti as a stand-in for his penis. It all feels vaguely ritualistic, the actions of a pair of lovers who have an instinctive, rawly intimate knowledge of each other.
The writer-director keeps us inside this thirtysomething German couple’s sequestered headspace for much of the film’s first half, attuning us to their private games and habits. Only as they venture into the outside world (the Edenic locale is eventually identified as Sardinia) do we get a sense of their lives beyond the relationship, mostly via a blustery acquaintance, Hans (Wagner), whom they’re trying to avoid.
Everyone Else’s power comes from the accrual of seemingly disparate incidents; a multifaceted portrait of the duo (and a larger examination of the ins and outs of any relationship) emerges amid all the sex, fighting, affection and insults. Moments that most movies would present with a forced dramatic flourish—as when Gitti threatens Hans’s wife, Sana (Marischka), with a kitchen knife—pass by with a strange sobriety that are as likely to intrigue as they are to put off. The film is an impressive effort, yet often a trying one.
In German and Italian with subtitles. Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) and her boyfriend, Chris (Lars Eidinger), spend their holiday vacation at the villa of Chris’ parents in Sardinia, Italy. He works as an architect and she’s a publicist for a rock band. At least for a while, they seem like a normal, happy couple who love one another affectionately, but there’s much more to their relationship than meets the eye. Their vacation place looks so serene and picturesque that you’ll probably wonder whether some kind of event, perhaps a sinister one, might stir things up a bit and startle the tranquility. Writer/director Maren Ade doesn’t provide you with a wealth of information about the lives of Gitti and Chris because she trusts that you, the audience, is intelligent enough to gather the bits and pieces of details along the way and, most importantly, to pay close attention to their conversations. Ade achieves a quietly absorbing sense of realism by unfolding their relationship so gradually and organically. You may not find yourself liking neither of the two, but at least they come across as complex, sensitive human beings. When Gitti and Chris meet another couple, Sana (Nicole Marischka) and Hans (Hans-Jochen Wagner), the dynamics of their relationship unravel even further and, in uncontrived ways, you notice them growing apart more rapidly from one another. Will they be able to patch up their relationship or is it completely hopeless for them? In reality, relationships take a lot of work and, fortunately, Maren Ade shows that she understands that because the answer to that question isn’t quite as simple and easy as you think it is. Even when Gitti behaves bizarrely or does something unexpected, her actions always uncover a new layer of her relationship with Chris while keeping you intrigued to continue discovering and peeling more layers. At a running time of 2 hours, Everyone Else manages to be quietly absorbing, mature and unpretentious with well-nuanced performances and lush cinematography.
Cannes '09: Day Six Mike D’Angelo at Cannes from The Onion A.V. Club, May 19, 2009
And now for something completely awesome. (Finally!) I haven’t attended the Berlin Film Festival since 2001, but one of the nice things about Cannes is that virtually all of the major Berlin titles screen in the Market, allowing one to play catch-up on days when the main festival’s sidebar pickings look relatively slim. I’d heard mixed things about François Ozon’s Ricky, about a flying baby (no kidding), but couldn’t resist taking a look for myself; while I appreciated Ozon’s matter-of-fact approach to such a fantastic premise, the movie ultimately makes no damn emotional sense. I left shrugging. (C+, if you’re wondering.) But Everyone Else, the second feature from Germany’s Maren Ade, pretty much wiped the floor with me, to the point where I was grateful that nobody else stuck around for the closing credits, so that I didn’t need to hide my surprised tears. Ade’s little-seen debut, The Forest for the Trees—a singleminded “horror film” (not literally) about a lonely young woman with zero comprehension of social boundaries; look for it on DVD from Film Movement—had knocked me for a loop a few years ago, but I was still unprepared for this razor-sharp dissection of a relationship in crisis, which somehow manages to be at once plotless and gorgeously structured, its theme emerging slowly and taking on additional heft with each successive, apparently rambling scene. Birgit Minichmayr (Downfall, Falling) and Lars Eidinger (who I’d never seen before) play a couple so intent on avoiding bourgeois cliché that they effectively choloroform any hint of genuine affection; without pounding you over the head, Ade makes a case for the importance of kitsch in romance, for the need to embrace with your lover the same gestures and platitudes that so nauseate you when you see them indulged by others. And yet the film is way thornier than that, contradicting itself in fascinating ways at every turn. (Both actors are stupendous.) Ade is clearly a major new voice in world cinema; I expect to see her at Cannes many times in future, and not in the Market, either. Grade: A-
CINE-FILE: Cine-List Ben Sachs
Chris and Gitti, a sensitive couple with little discernible ambition, come apart during a lazy vacation in Sardinia, though their dissolution isn't the result of violent flare-ups so much as personal insecurities and deep-seated passive-aggression. In synopsis, Maren Ade's second feature sounds like the sort of low-budget relationship drama we've come so accustomed to forgetting in recent years; and, indeed, its opening stretches look out over a great pitfall of solipsism. But EVERYONE ELSE displays rare patience and its insights are well worth waiting for. It becomes apparent, for instance, that this seemingly aimless film is actually moving at a pace unique to its main characters--who, like many newly-serious couples, operate on their own time, governed in part by libido but just as much by curiosity, a willingness to drop everything for the revelation of a lover's secret, a shared discovery, a new inside joke. (It should be noted that Ade is as deliberate in her handling of time as Bela Tarr.) It's also revealed that what appeared to be the filmmakers' solipsism is actually the characters' denial of certain hard realities; and, in fact, this revelation becomes the driving force of the entire film. Chris and Gitti are well aware of the middle-class lifestyle they're trying to escape--It's the source of the film's title--as well as darker philosophic issues most everyone spends adult life trying to avoid. The film contains several monologues of self-examination reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman's chamber dramas, probably the closest point-of-reference for Ade's psychological examination, and the leads respond to the material with performances of uncommon complexity. Needless to say, this sort of filmmaking is an acquired taste (It requires that you see universal angst even in these thirty-something fuck-ups), but Ade and her cast are so thorough in their characterizations that even irritated viewers should be impressed with their perceptiveness; those receptive to their mission should find this downright unsettling. Once the couple's happiness is proven to be unsustainable, EVERYONE ELSE proceeds with the anxious tension of a horror movie. Every revelation of character carries a sense of unspoken threat, a nervousness that's in no way diminished by the sexiness of the leads or the edenic palette of Bernhard Keller's 35mm photography.
The Onion A.V. Club review [A-] Scott Tobias
In her extraordinary 2003 debut, The Forest For The Trees, German director Maren Ade charted the emotional breakdown of an idealistic young teacher who leaves her provincial home for the city, but isn’t socially equipped for the transition. Ade sympathizes with her plight, but isn’t given to assigning blame in any direction—while the teacher endures cruelties large and small from her students and contemporaries, she’s culpable, too, in provoking those cruelties with her immaturity and passive-aggression. So what Ade is really examining is bad chemistry, and the emotional fallout that happens when people don’t fit in.
The idea of “fitting in” is embedded in the title of Ade’s equally sharp, uncompromising follow-up film Everyone Else, about a couple struggling for self-definition against bourgeois norms. Other than their looks, enhanced by the lovely backdrop of a working vacation in Sardinia, there’s nothing remotely ingratiating about the couple (or the movie), but plenty of truths to be gleaned from their relationship. Birgit Minichmayr and Lars Eidinger are an odd pair in the best of times—she an open, free-spirited, sometimes childish sprite, he a struggling architect who’s charming but distant, a little too cool for school. When they spend a little time with another, more settled couple (Hans-Jochen Wagner and Nicole Marischka), their fundamental differences are thrown into a harsh light.
Everyone Else is the quintessential breakup movie, which means the kindnesses, cute gestures, and happily-ever-afters of a typical screen romance are replaced by pettiness, ugly slights, backbiting, and the kind of hurt that only the most intimate are capable of inflicting on each other. Naturally, it can be unpleasant, and the toughness of Ade’s film is exacerbated by her refusal to apply some cookie-cutter structure to lead this couple more gracefully to the exit. Everyone Else isn’t formless, but Ade gives all this messy dysfunction plenty of room to play out, all while scoring subtle points about the lengths people will (or won’t) go to conform to the expectations of their lovers and their societies. There’s a slight imbalance in how Ade directs our sympathies—Minichmayr is more likeable than Eidinger, whose indecision is matched only by his remoteness and pretension—but Everyone Else unloads a fusillade of truth bombs about those painfully specific moments when communication breaks down and couples start talking past each other. It isn’t pretty to witness, but the pain of it smarts.
Film-Forward.com Yan Litovsky
The mark of originality may not be the ability to generate novel content, but the gift of interpreting an age-old scenario in a fresh and intelligent way. By this account, Everyone Else—a deceptively simple German film about a young relationship—is stunningly original. In a style at once hyper-realistic and polished, director Maren Ade explores the nooks and crannies of a couple’s interactions over the course of a lazy vacation in Sardinia. Chris (Lars Eidinger), an idealistic architect struggling with his ambition, and Gitti (Brigit Minichmayr), a laid-back, salt of the earth music publicist, appear to be an ostensibly happy match. They enjoy a seemingly recently found comfort with one another, but without an indication of the length of their affair, the audience is recruited as spying anthropologists, challenged to diagnose the nature of the bond. We look for clues in their fights, their sex, their silences, recognizing universal tensions and completely unique nuances.
Unlike a mumblecore film that revels in reality for reality’s sake, this documentation of a human interaction is loaded with analytic takeaways. At the core of their relationship is a struggle between private affection and the public projection of their image (as a couple and as individuals). In the confines of their house, Chris and Gitti share a silly, whimsical connection. Here, the significant differences in their background and personalities—her impulsive energy contrasts to his quiet self-reflection—are softened and ignored. Chris and Gitti flourish in each other’s company, putting the rest of the world, and their irreconcilable character traits, on hold. But in public, where real or imagined expectations are triggered by every passerby, the couple’s festering resentment and incongruous self-consciousness introduces tension and self-doubt. The aspect of their relationship that suffers most in the light of day is the couple’s assumption of gender roles. Gitti has a simpler, matter-a-fact personality that suggests masculinity, while Chris’ overly reflective self-doubt and passive nature place him in a more feminine role.
Everyone Else boldly addresses the unsavory desire to brashly present ourselves as a fully realized member of a social type—be it bohemian or posh, intellectual or homespun. In an age where authenticity and trueness-to-self (whatever that means) are revered, this inclination for self-invention is somewhat embarrassing and rarely explored with such care and honesty. The acting is equally sincere. Chris and Gitti reenact the natural ebb and flow of tension in a relationship, sometimes triggered by a microscopic change in mood. Despite the profound insights, the thrill of reality recreated somehow makes Everyone Else a light, and at times even joyful, experience.
Everyone Else (Alle Anderen) Jonathan Romney at Screendaily (registration required)
Writer-director Maren Ade made a strong impression with her 2003 debut, the spare, video-shot The Forest For The Trees. Everyone Else, her less focused, somewhat more conventional follow-up is essentially an intense two-hander, with supporting roles, about a mismatched couple whose introspective romance reaches an understated crisis while on holiday. The film’s prime attraction is a prickly, suggestive character sketch by female lead Birgit Minichmayr, but, while festivals may take to Ade’s distinctive dramatic sensibility, the film’s overall talkiness, sparse action and quintessentially art-house sleepiness will make theatrical prospects tenuous.
Set in Sardinia, the film traces the relationship between architect Chris (Eidinger) and his apparently newish girlfriend Gitti (Minichmayr). Chris is failing to flourish at his work - largely, it seems, as a result of his self-pitying hesitancy, which sometimes passes as idealism, although Gitti sees through it. The couple lead an insular life, acting out private micro-dramas, and generally being disparaging about the other ‘normal’ people they prefer to avoid. The pair see themselves as somehow different to the bourgeois order - although Gitti’s status as a rebel looks somewhat tenuous when we discover she’s nothing more radical than a music business PR.
Out shopping, Chris runs into an old colleague, Hans (Wagner), a bullish type thriving in his career and enjoying a showily perfect relationship with pregnant wife Sana (Marischka). That couple’s shiny confidence causes both Chris and Gitti to question the way they see themselves and each other, causing cracks in their precarious closeness.
The film gets off to a good start with a virtuoso bit of mischief from Gitti, teaching Chris’s young niece how to express hate. Chris later indulges himself in a hugely entertaining performance, doing a slinky dance to Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson’s cheesy ‘To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before’. After the first half-hour, however, the drama is becalmed, as Chris and Gitti mull over their relationship at length, and generally behave with the sort of tetchy perversity and abruptness that may be true to life, but tends to mark a film as strictly art-house material.
Throughout, Ade makes a point of underplaying or defusing moments that seem to promise conventional drama: neither a failed dinner party nor a hiking trip, on which Chris and Gitti get lost, deliver the expected dramatic intensity. Somewhere within the languid atmosphere - with warm-toned photography by Bernhard Keller - is an insightful essay about the way lovers can feed on each other’s flaws. Acting is generally persuasive and relaxed, with Eidinger impressing as an essentially stolid character who seems to rely on his neuroses for a sense of self. And while Gitti’s inner depths remains somewhat elusive, Minichmayr achieves quite a feat in making her as vivid and often infuriating as she does. Even so, you wish that Minichmayr’s energies had been allowed to infuse this moody, rambling piece rather more.
Everyone Else | Reverse Shot With or Without You, Eric Hynes from Reverse Shot,
Slant Magazine review Kevin B. Lee
Strictly Film School review Acquarello
Jigsaw Lounge : Cluj film-festival report [S.Seacroft[ Sheila Seacroft
“A delicate psychological dramaturgy” Ruediger Suchsland interview from Cineuropa, June 11, 2009
Village Voice (Aaron Hillis) review Hillis interviews the director, September 29, 2009
Couples Chaos: German Director Maren Ade Talks About Everyone Else ... Scott Foundas feature and interview from LA Weekly, October 28, 2009
Peter Brunette The Hollywood Reporter
Austin Chronicle review [3.5/5] Marc Savlov
Bright Lights Film Journal :: Bereavement in British Cinema Richard Armstrong, August 2004
Israel Germany Belgium (99 mi) 2013
You think we need Bedouins from who knows where to tell us what’s good for Palestine? Your father just learned to wear shoes last week!
—Abu Mussa (Karem Shakur), head of the Palestinian Authority.
Perhaps it’s no
coincidence that the same New York production company, Adopt Films, which
previously released standout independent arthouse films like 2013 Top Ten
List #4 Tabu (2012) and 2012
Top Ten Films of the Year: #10 Sister (L'enfant d'en haut) , had their hand
in distributing both Hany Abu-Assad’s Palestinian film Omar (2013)
and also this Israeli film, both dealing with the exact same subject from
slightly different perspectives, a stark look at the impact of how the Israeli
secret police coerces Palestinian prison inmates into becoming Israeli
informers in exchange for their release.
Abu-Assad is a Palestinian born in Israel, making him an Israeli
citizen, though he doesn’t consider himself one, as
There’s a meticulous level of detail throughout, especially in the elaborate exposé of military intelligence, both on the Israeli and the Palestinian side, producing a work of intense scrutiny that offers real insight into how the intelligence world operates in the Middle East. While the film is a balance of Hebrew and Arabic, the end credits also list both, side by side, with a little English thrown in as well.
While Bethlehem is a Palestinian city located in the West Bank, it’s also one of the largest Christian communities and includes important Jewish shrines, so the town is interestingly patrolled by both Palestinian and Israeli police, though the presence of Israeli police tends to incite instantaneous riots, creating quickly growing mob scenes with groups throwing stones at the occupiers. This hostile environment is nothing less than a war zone, as it’s a community ravaged by unending cycles of violence, where the fanaticism on both sides only escalates. This is one of the few films, along with Omar, to show balance while creating an unmistakable picture of what life is like in such war-torn areas, where we see it play out viewed from both sides. From the director, writers, and actors, almost everyone involved in this production is working in a film for the first time, including a terrific use of non-professionals, where according to the director, a Columbia graduate who has a Ph.D in philosophy, the motivation for the film was watching a video news excerpt from the Palestinian territories of an informant dragged through the streets with a hundred people just standing by as he was shot and executed in cold blood. This kind of savage violence is at the root of the film, as it continues to play such a prominent role in Arab-Israeli relations, much like the use of drones, becoming the unspoken weapon used in the war on terror. It is not by accident that the title of the film references the birthplace of Jesus, whose parents supposedly encountered difficulty finding appropriate lodging several thousand years ago, as this is a film that moves between Palestinian and Israeli society, between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, which are geographically quite close, separated by a valley that to this day remains a no man’s land and figures quite prominently in the film’s finale. The film’s center is a complicated relationship between Razi (Tsahi Halevy, an Israeli singer-songwriter with a history of combat duty in the Israeli army), a veteran Israeli Shin Bet operative fluent in Arabic who is working in an antiterrorism unit, and one of his informants, Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i), a young 17-year-old Palestinian recruited two years earlier with the sole purpose of helping track down his older brother, Ibrahim (Hisham Suliman), considered a major threat to Israeli security, as he’s the leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a man Razi has been targeting for over a year.
The film opens as
Palestinian suicide bombers have struck in the heart of
As all these forces are swirling around in a state of pandemonium and chaos following the incident, the first half of the film is mostly seen through the eyes of Razi, who has a beautiful wife and family that he rarely sees, as the needs of his job are round the clock, never taking a break, where much of his effort is in providing reassurance to Sanfur, who grows less and less trustful, eventually cutting off ties altogether, where the second half is largely seen through the anguished eyes of Sanfur, who so much wants to prove himself, but the world he lives in is always in a heightened state of paranoia and suspicion. There’s a brilliant action sequence when Ibrahim is tracked down and chased through a market into someone’s home, cornered into a firefight with an Israeli commando squad, turning into a brutal and bloody siege in the home of an innocent family, where the intense street level fighting is further accentuated by an angry mob that is turning on the presence of Israeli police in their neighborhood, where rocks and bullets have a surprisingly powerful effect, where the sense of havoc and turmoil is everpresent, especially on a top secret assassination mission. The tempers flare afterwards when both Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades claim the corpse of Ibrahim as one of their own, where even in death the conflict continues, where the political insight astutely shows a fractured West Bank that is continually reactive and on the defensive, never developing any coordinated plan of action. After the death of his brother, Sanfur only grows more angry and militant, reaching out to the leaders of Al Aqsa, the local militia led by Badawi (Hitham Omari), but they’re curious about his relationship to his brother, where certain details cause them concern, especially when they hear Sanfur helped funnel money to Ibrahim from Hamas, a group they’re fiercely at odds with, and the more they press the matter the harder it is for Sanfur, who is just an adolescent kid, to maintain his own sense of identity. Tugged and pulled, manipulated and coerced on all sides, yet never able to distance himself from his brother, there is no place where Sanjur is safe, nowhere for him to go, ending up all alone in a no man’s zone, finding himself just as trapped as his fanatically committed brother with no way out. A film about conflicting loyalties, where Razi is equally divided at placing his hard earned informant at risk, but it especially shows just how elusive the enemy becomes when you also have to contend with an enemy from within, where there is no peace and no safe haven, as you can’t trust anyone, and you’re left with no place called home.
In Bethlehem, retribution is more credible, unpredictable, and personal. Director Yuval Adler, who had served in Israeli Military Intelligence, co-wrote with Palestinian journalist Ali Waked. In this debut feature, the use of a Palestinian informer is even more incendiary: the asset, who has a brother aligned with Hamas, is 17. He’s more vulnerable, not only because of his age but for having a years-long bond with his Secret Service handler, Israeli family man Razi (Tsahi Halevy). Fluent in Arabic, Razi genuinely feels protective towards Sanfu (Shadi Mar’i), even when the kid doesn’t realize all of the behind-the-scene strings Razi pulls to insulate him, and throughout the years, he has rewarded the teen with gifts (though a flashy iPhone may not be the most inconspicuous).
There are many different types of turf wars going on: the Palestinian Authority vs. Hamas, Razi taking on upper management, Sanfur vs. his hardline family. The storyline never moves in a direction that loses the plot’s inner-logic. Like in Omar, this is a male-dominated battlefield, but Bethlehem takes jabs at the machismo posturing and preening, questioning when personal pride gets in the way of the political. The back-to-basics direction also includes a lucidly choreographed shoot-out between a militants and the Israeli army, where the suspense derives from what you can’t see around the dark corner. Perhaps most impressively, Adler brings out volatile performances from his non-professional cast (the film shares a father, actor Tarek Copti, with Omar).
Utterly circumscribed by its political geography, Yuval Adler’s Bethlehem delineates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of a Palestinian teen, Sanfur, who at film’s outset is boldly protesting to his peers that he’s got the nerve to take a bullet to the chest (aided by a protective vest presumably looted from Israeli officers). That he spends the remainder of the film maimed from impact—which the director casually elides—is evidence of Adler’s desire to maintain an uncompromising veracity to a conflict that loops concentrically among familial, religious, and political loyalties. At once a willful warrior in the Palestinian cause and an informant to a doting Israeli officer who took the boy under his wing at an early age, Sanfur shuttles between this surrogate father figure and his older brother Ibrahim, who’s high on the Israeli secret service’s hit list. There’s an action sequence in which Ibrahim is tracked and cornered into a nasty gunfight that shows off Adler’s knack for kinetic warfare on a street level, while being insightfully detailed in its exposition of political haranguing among Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, who ironically compete for corpses felled in the cause. The salient publicity point for the film seems to be its escalated but not inflamed sense of partisan politics, owing to a script co-written by Adler and Palestinian journalist Ali Waked. The film will unfairly beg comparison to Hany Abu-Assad’s Paradise Now by virtue of context alone, but a more instructive reference may be Abu-Assad’s documentary Ford Transit, for the way it provides incidental insight into a conflict by focusing on one of its chief movers—namely the white trucks that once belonged to the Israeli army but have since been inherited by Palestinian taxi drivers. Bethlehem is compelling for its regional exposure, but a tendency for narrative velocity and plot machinations (otherwise known as a thriller) gives away the film’s ultimate agenda as genre-dependent, regardless of site-specificity. Credit to Adler though for the necessarily unhappy ending.
Another addition to what’s become a long string of tight-knit films set within the Israel-Palestine conflict, the efficient if unremarkable crime drama Bethlehem uses the infamously ongoing struggle as the thematic backdrop for a story of loyalty, family and morality. Spending equal time with both sides, the film seeks a sort of objective middle ground, but rather than achieving a valuable neutrality, the whole thing just feels indifferently dramatized. The densely plotted script co-written by director Yuval Adler and journalist Ali Wakad—the latter is Palestinian, the former Israeli, and both supply the script with personal insights and experiences—is essentially structured like a truncated season of The Wire, paying close attention to the methods and idiosyncrasies that define both groups; unlike The Wire, however, a fresh sociopolitical worldview never materializes.
The story pivots on the complicated relations between Razi (Tsahi Halevy), an Israeli antiterrorism operative, his 17-year-old Palestinian informant Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i), and Sanfur’s older brother Ibrahim (Hisham Suliman), who’s either a hero, a militant, or a terrorist, depending on who you ask. That sort of idle shoulder-shrugging is found throughout the film, leaving us with the sort of clichéd bottom line that has accompanied this conflict for ages: Both sides have their favorable points, both sides are guilty of one thing or another, and an unwillingness to compromise only prolongs the violence. If you’ve watched even 10 minutes of CNN in the last decade, you’ve basically seen Bethlehem.
Still, the film skips along at brisk pace, even if the action isn’t always visually appealing. Adler, making his directorial debut, doesn’t so much direct as arrange and frame, following the rigors of the script perhaps too closely. His handheld camera and faux-documentary compositions belie a complete lack of imagination and spontaneity. Indeed, Bethlehem feels as if it’s bound to an invisible track: Tritely political dialogue exchanges follow sequences of tactical espionage follow manufactured emotional epiphanies—it doesn’t take long to deduce the pattern as the film barrels toward an abrupt denouement.
One unique wrinkle to these otherwise standard proceedings is Adler’s use of amateur actors. Halevy, for instance, served in the Israeli army and saw combat firsthand, while Mar’i grew up around the film’s primary shooting locations. Their performances are stilted, to be sure, but not exactly unnatural. Mar’i, for instance, has a noticeable “fish out of water” gaze throughout, but such wariness matches his character's bewildered disposition. His interactions with Halevy are particularly poignant, and together, their makeshift father-son relationship provides the script with a much-needed human dynamic. As the story progresses, and the cast of characters grows wider, their story takes a backseat before being reintroduced in the film’s waning moments. By then, Adler has spun his wheels with superfluous subplots and bootless politicizing, so what are meant to be bracing conclusions arrive with a thud rather than a bang. The same can be said for the film at large, which wades through the heated Israel-Palestine conflict the way one wades through a checkout line.
PopMatters Renée Scolaro Mora
Bethlehem / The Dissolve Noah Berlatsky
Critics At Large : Art vs. Propaganda: Bethlehem and Omar Shlomo Schwartzberg
Yuval Adler on 'Bethlehem' and Heidegger - NYTimes.com Larry Rohter interview from The New York Times, December 11, 2013
A gripping thriller exposes unsettling Israeli-Palestinian truths Mitch Ginsburg from The Times of Israel
'Bethlehem,' a film of spies and intrigue and Oscar ... - Jewish J Tom Tugend from The Jewish Journal
Review: 'Bethlehem' a taut cat-and-mouse game - Los ... Sheri Linden from The LA Times
Yuval Adler and Ali Waked Breathe Life Into 'Bethlehem' - NYTim Manohla Dargis from The New York Times
A sweet romantic comedy, with chubby Sägebrecht playing a lonely
undertaker's assistant who falls for a young knight on a shiny yellow subway
train and stalks him in, one initially supposes, forlorn pursuit - the
punchline being that her U-Bahn inamorato (Gulp) is married to a black-clad
harpy and highly susceptible to a little old-fashioned seduction. Adlon paints
A glum, overweight woman (Marianne Sagebrecht) who works in a Munich mortuary finds her life illuminated one day when she catches a glimpse of a handsome young subway conductor (Eisi Gulp); she knows he's the Zuckerbaby of her dreams, and she sets out to catch him, studying the subway schedule, planning elaborate ruses, and finally luring him to her apartment, where he falls madly in love with her (1985). Director Percy Adlon (Celeste) deftly avoids the traps built into the material: the film is neither sticky and cultish nor grotesque and exploitative. The script ideas, which might seem familiar in outline, are pushed so far that they emerge in the pure, clear, mythic realm that lies on the other side of cliche, and the playfully abstract visual style that Adlon has adopted (lots of color filters, low camera angles, and wacky, unmotivated camera movements) gives it the allure of a real-life animated cartoon. A charming surprise, concocted with dignity and affection.
A radiant, oddball comedy-drama about the relationship that develops between a fat Bavarian tourist (Sägebrecht), an irritable black truckstop owner (Pounder), and a weirdo artist (Palance, smiling and delightful, in bandana and snakeskin boots), set in the dusty Arizona desert land of lonesome motels beloved of Sam Shepard. Sägebrecht, her husband ditched along the way, arrives sweatily out of the yellow haze, absurdly decked out in buttoned-up suit, green felt hat and feather, high heels and suitcase; gradually she transforms, and is transformed by, the lives of a motley band of misfits who inhabit a dilapidated diner exotically named 'The Bagdad Café'. A wish-fulfilling fable about culture-clash and the melting-pot, it's also firmly grounded in telling and cinematically original observations. Adlon's method is at once intimate, quirky and affirmative: precise evocation of place, expressive colours, and a slow build-up of characters, allow him to raise the film effortlessly into realms of fantasy, shafted with magic and moments of epiphany.
There are very few films that I consider perfect. This is one of them. The
film takes place in the middle of the
Into this scenario walks a German woman who has been dumped on the highway by her abusive husband. Her name is Jasmin (pronounced 'Yasmine' like the 'Bleeth'). Jasmin is played by Marianne Sagebrecht who is very much at ease in the shape of her container. Inadvertantly, Jasmin ended up with her husband's suitcase which contains (of course) men's clothes AND a magic kit. She then meets the odd (I am avoiding the word dysfunctional) characters who inhabit this small world.
Brenda is the owner (and totalitarian BOSS) of the motel and cafe. She is
played by CCH Pounder carrying quite a few less pounds. She has a slut for a
daughter and a son whose mind is totally consumed by classical music. Rudi
(played beautifully by Jack Palance) is an ex-set painter from
There is the difference in cultures...with both Brenda and Jasmin suspicious of one another. There is also a very clean, mysterious, bright yellow coffee thermos, a rifle with a hair-trigger, a boomerang, an incredible rainbow and some pink flamingos (for color). Above all, there is a whole lot of magic!
The same haunting song floats in and out through the entire film. Watching this film is like stepping into a place outside of time (right off the side of the highway).
Frau Muenchstettner was born to scrub. She is an artist with
Marianne Sagebrecht of
All these strange folks are in a funk, their spirits broken like the cafe''s coffee maker. And then along comes the first sign of magic: a Bavarian thermos that is perpetually full of coffee. Brenda's husband finds it abandoned on the highway along with the weeping Jasmin Muenchstettner, who nervously refuses a ride. Jasmin, who has just split with her husband, arrives at the cafe' hours later, and only slightly disheveled. Coincidentally, Brenda has just told her husband to get lost. They are two women sleeping single.
They also couldn't be more different in color, shape, culture and temperament. Brenda, meaner than cactus quills, takes an instant dislike to the Lane Bryant-sized, sweet-natured Jasmin. But after a lot of cleaning and cajoling, Jasmin wins the trust of the skinnier woman. The polar personalities propel the story, but there's something condescending about an Aryan Mary Poppins dropping by to save a black family from debt and despair. Nevertheless, it's a winning story of friendship, extended family and rediscovered femininity.
As in "Sugarbaby," which also starred Sagebrecht, Adlon's heroines are happiest when they find the yen within -- when they're nurturing and being nice. They enjoy being girls, as it were. Here, Jasmin strips away her dowdy Bavarian manner along with her thick wool suit and discovers she is not just a middle-aged hausfrau, eventually posing nude with a split cantaloupe for the artist Rudi Cox (Jack Palance).
Her Windex-blue eyes shining, she also wipes away the layers of grime at the cafe'. And voila`, Brenda's sunny side begins to emerge. She no longer sees Jasmin as a threat, but accepts her for what she is, a woman as generous of spirit as she is of body. The two women begin to work together, the cafe' flourishes, and Brenda begins to smile again and love her kids. There's beer and Coke and coffee and plenty of customers at the Bagdad Cafe, drawn by the ladies and the actual magic they've learned to perform.
The movie does seem to have been pulled from a hat, a series
of surprises tossed off by Adlon and his producer wife Eleonore. The script
grew out of the couple's 1984 trip across the
Sa gebrecht, who redefined sex appeal in
"Sugarbaby," is the most alluring full-figured girl since Jane
Russell. She is an understated actress in an overstated body, enjoyable
precisely because she is so peaceful and sweet. Like the rest of the cast, she
was chosen for her eccentric style. It's rather like the characters from "
The title refers to the
“Aduaka, Newton (1966-)” BFI Screen Online
Born in Ogidi, Eastern Nigeria, in 1966, Newton Aduaka moved to Lagos in 1970 after the Biafran War, and then to England in 1985. Following a diploma course in video arts and post-production, he studied film history, art and technique at the London International Film School, graduating in 1990. He wrote and published short stories while working as a sound mixer on a wide range of productions.
In 1997 he set up Granite FilmWorks with Maria Elena L'Abbate to produce personal, cutting-edge and uncompromising films. As a director, his short films include Carnival of Silence (1994), Voices Behind the Wall (1990) and On The Edge (1997), which won him three prestigious awards and numerous special mentions.
His debut feature Rage (2000) was released to huge critical acclaim, becoming the first independent film by a black film-maker to gain a national release in Britain. It was also very successful in international film festivals, winning many prizes including Best Director at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles.
Since then he has directed commercials and a further short film, Funeral (2002), commissioned for the Cannes Film Festival alongside similarly-themed work from internationally renowned directors such as Walter Salles, Arturo Ripstein and Amos Gitai.
Masterclass with Newton Aduaka Cannes, May 2007, published in Africultures, July 24, 2007
ON THE EDGE
Great Britian (28 mi) 1997
On The Edge (1997) Ann Ogidi from BFI Screen Online
The multi-award winning short On The Edge (d. Newton Aduaka, 1997) is a harrowing portrait of the effects of drugs which avoids the moralising of government health warnings. The director elicits an astonishing performance from actress Susan Warren as Lorna, who goes through a range of emotions as she copes with her drug withdrawal and self-hatred. Maynard Eziashi, is also very good as her boyfriend, Court, the still, reflective heart at the centre of the film.
The film is shot in black and white, with colour sequences depicting Court's childhood memories - an interesting reversal of expectation. The characters are trapped in their pain just as they are literally trapped in the flat when Court, in desperation, throws the keys out of the window. And the long night in which they fight through the argument is as gripping and intimate as theatre. We cannot leave until it becomes light. However when dawn arrives it is only a small respite in the storm.
Aduaka's debut feature film Rage (1999) an uncompromising story about the three teenage boys locked in a spiral of poverty and violence, also collected several awards. The director is clearly a talent to watch.
Great Britain Nigeria (120 mi) 1999
'Tell me about your reality.' Rage (or Jamie to his mum) dreams of cutting a rap record with his friends Thomas (a DJ), and Godwin, a talented pianist. They're each struggling in their own way to grapple with questions of identity and race on the streets of south London. Rage, the most rebellious, is also walking a moral knife-edge, trying to help an elderly mentor out of his drug debts, but feeling the pressure to cross the law himself. Aduaka's independent, improvised feature isn't a smooth ride ('This ain't no Hollywood movie'), but it feels real, and it has something important to say about where young people are at right now. It's made with sincerity, but more than that, with integrity.
Rage (d. Newton Aduaka, 2000) was hyped as a violent hip hop style urban movie. It turned out instead to be a sensitive, downbeat and unglamorous portrayal of two working-class black boys and their middle-class white friend on the threshold of adulthood.
Jamie (Fraser Ayres) is a gifted rapper, convulsed by a burning, low-level anger which occasionally explodes - hence the 'Rage' nickname. He is in a line of alienated black male characters beginning with Horace Ové's Pressure (1975) and including Franco Rosso's Babylon (1980). However, Jamie's mixed-race background sets him apart from these antecedents, and this is given a further twist by neatly placing him alongside his two fellow crew members - his black childhood friend 'G' (Shaun Parkes), and 'T' (John Pickard), a white middle-class wannabe.
The Brixton based homeboys are in search of a record deal, which will make or break them. As manhood beckons all are at a critical turning point in their lives. Rage is the most driven; for him the music is all. In music he can find himself - outside of it, South London remains an alienating urban jungle. Rage also has identity problems - is he black or white? In a highly tribal youth culture, his white mother's childhood reassurances that he is neither - just a unique individual - are no longer enough. He badly misses his dead father. Marcus (Shango Baku), a thoughtful old Rasta, becomes a reluctant mentor. Rage indulges Marcus's ganja habit, storing up danger for himself by scoring Marcus' drugs on credit from ruthless local dealer Pin (Wale Ojo).
Troubled by money problems and determined to cut his own record, Rage leads his friends, particularly the reluctant G, on a drastic course of action. The inevitable disaster, humiliation and violence Rage, G and Marcus suffer from the police and Pin spins Rage out of control. His erratic ravings and violence finally drive G and T away. As the bonds of childhood break, each man is left to ponder his own true desire, his position in England at the end of the 20th century. And to choose a destiny.
The quiet lyrical resolution finds Rage coming to terms with himself. As his friends (the symbolic black and white aspects of his personality) drift off into their own orbit, Rage evolves beyond the clichéd 'tragic mulatto', of his earlier incarnation. He is becoming his own unique creation.
BBCi - Films Michael Thomson
Nigeria France USA Great Britain Austria (110 mi) 2006 YouTube trailer
Told much like a fictionalized documentary, thus is a highly ambitious film about male child kidnapping in Africa, initially used like pack mules to fill the ranks of rebel soldiers in armed rebellion against corrupt and tyrannical governments before being brainwashed to later lead the military assaults, a film that suffers from poor editing and sound, which jumbles the material in an incoherent order, detracting from some of the dramatic power, though that may have been intentional, matching the altered state of mind of one of the victims, while the sound is so poor that much of what is spoken in English (no subtitling) was simply not understood. Despite the flaws, this is an exhilarating film that gives you a ground level African perspective without the Hollywood special effects and melodrama—see the love story between Leonardo Decaprio and Jennifer Connelly inserted into the backdrop of the Sierra Leone civil war that diminishes slave child labor camps and the rampant theft of African diamonds to Europe into secondary storylines in BLOOD DIAMOND (2006). Shot by a Nigerian-born director, featuring mostly non-professional actors and African locations (shot in Rwanda), this film gets its priorities straight, following a young 7-year old as he and other boys are hauled out of school by armed rebels carrying machine guns before being marched into the bush to become part of a guerilla military operation they know nothing about. The first to object is shot on the spot. This view of stocking a rag tag army with cheap child labor through forced intimidation feeds the exploitive capitalist model at its bare bones worst, as these are child captives forced to work as slaves. 9 years later, we see this same young boy known as Ezra (Mamoudu Turay Kamara), a sullen, yet physically imposing young man, now one of the elite soldiers of the group known as “The Brotherhood” carrying an AK-47. While they spout slogans about freedom and justice, their leader (Emile Abossolo Mbo) would ruthlessly shoot anyone attempting to escape, implementing the same tyrannical methods they are attempting to overthrow.
The scene shifts from graphic footage into a courtroom where a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is attempting to ascertain just what generated some of the worst atrocities in their decade long civil war, calling witnesses to shed light, many of whom can’t recall much. But one witness who can’t speak comes forward, Onitcha (Mariame N’Diaye), Ezra’s sister, pointing her finger at her brother sitting silently in the courtroom as one of the leaders of a brutal raid against her family and village, killing her parents and cutting out her tongue before burning the village to the ground. From this accusation, the scene shifts back and forth between flashback mode and the courtroom, where Ezra’s life as part of the rebel faction is shot with hand held cameras creating a visceral feel for movement and action, while the courtroom scenes are single view shots, where each speaker and what they have to say becomes the center of attention. It’s interesting that in both versions, there is a lingering question about the truth which continues to be an elusive element of this film. Shown only in brief segments, the audience has to piece together Ezra’s life which is shot out of sequence, adding a great deal of confusion, offering little in the way of explanation, which can be rather appealing. We soon discover that the rebels, far from being a revolutionary group, are actually a militia guarding the diamond mines (always offscreen), where a European man in a white suit who visits occasionally may actually be financing the operation, offering guns and other special items in exchange for the diamonds. We see the same man in an equally cooperative relationship with the government troops as well, apparently having a hand in both side’s affairs, playing one against the other, arming both sides. When we see him deliver a shipment of amphetamines, this is the prelude to the raids on the villages, intimidating potential voters by chopping off their hands, where the soldiers were injected with the drugs to increase their ruthlessness, keeping them up for 4 days straight, causing hallucinations, and then wreaking havoc with their memories afterwards, as Ezra can’t remember a thing. As he’s still a child attempting to piece his life together, much of it altered by drugs and traumatic stress, not only have the kidnappers taken his childhood from him, but erased much of his memory as well. This adds a truly complex element to the film, which may explain the incoherency of sequences told out of order, as it’s a hideous part of the equation that may have no remedy.
is to be commended for accentuating the internal trauma, not the bloody raids
and murderous assaults, where piecing back together again the broken parts of a
human being is not so easy. Some of the
sister’s testimony is equally appalling and traumatizing, as her suggestion
that Ezra may have led the assaults against his own family is simply
abominable. In a flashback sequence,
when he discovers what happened to them, he vows revenge against the
perpetrators, never once thinking he could have been involved. This strange out of body experience offers
perhaps the most lucid testimony about the concept of war, which is a highly
irrational act that makes no sense, as what reasonable person would willingly
murder and maim? There is plenty of
evidence both in
TimeOut London Dave Calhoun
Aduaka's second film after the London-set 'Rage' tells of the experience of a child soldier (Kamara) who fights in a war in an unnamed African state, although the timing and setting recall the civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s. The film jumps back and forth from the bloody stage of this battle to a later truth and reconciliation hearing, during which Ezra stands against his relatives in the search for truth. It's an intelligent, cleverly measured film, but what's particularly interesting is how it treads a similar path as the recent 'Blood Diamond' yet steers clear of that film's failings. In 'Ezra', there's no Leonardo DiCaprio to lead us by the hand through both an exotic foreign landscape and a host of genre conventions. Instead, the film is raw and truthful. When an exploitative white character does appear in 'Ezra' he stays for a few minutes and is less poster-boy than grey, ugly and corrupt.
Nigerian-born filmmaker Newton I. Aduaka, whose family suffered through the Biafran War of the late 1960s, brings a special sensitivity to this drama about the life of a child soldier. The film opens on the very young Ezra walking down a country road to school in an unnamed African country (most likely Sierra Leone). Just as class begins, gunfire disrupts the calm as rebel troops swoop down, later forcing the youngsters on a long march through the bush. Structured in nonlinear fashion, the story jumps forward a decade to Ezra testifying before a truth and reconciliation hearing. From there, Ezra’s flashbacks show children eventually forming substitute families in the militias, as they come to doubt they will ever see their real families again. Coerced, indoctrinated, and drugged into becoming marauding looters and killers, these youth unwittingly enrich rebel leaders, arms traders, and exploiters of local resources (most notably diamonds). Rather than focusing on battle scenes, Ezra provides a compassionate psychological portrait of war’s survivors as a vehicle for healing individuals and a nation. Aduaka expertly manages the tension throughout and draws solid naturalistic performances from his cast. Ezra won the coveted Grand Prize at Fespaco, Africa’s most important cinematic showcase.
Unlike many of its Western-made counterparts, Ezra neither condescends to its African characters (or culture) nor shies away from the grim, brutal violence that dominates so much of the continent. Unfortunately, Nigerian director Newton I. Aduaka's film has its own raft of problems, which eventually conspire to drain its relevant, pressing story—about children being kidnapped and turned into soldiers by murderous guerrilla battalions—of coherence and intensity. In this fictional tale, young Ezra is stolen in 1992 by a pack of rebels who seek to overthrow the corrupt Sierra Leone government that's reportedly in league with the West and its diamond consortiums. Seven years later, Ezra's sister (Mariame N'Diaye) comes before a truth and reconciliation tribunal with stories of her teenage brother's (Mamodou Turay Kamara) atrocities, none more abominable than his role in their parents' deaths. As Ezra denies any knowledge of these crimes, flashbacks elucidate his ordeal, which involves horrendous abuse and, before one nighttime raid, mandatory injections of hallucinogenic drugs. These sequences of Ezra's rebel duty express the drudgery, traumatizing intimidation, and unshackled cruelty that characterize such a life, and Aduaka's earthy color palette and grimy, intimate compositions elicit empathy for his psychologically and emotionally battered protagonist, as well as the chaos-engulfed nation in which he struggles to survive. However, despite its interest in pluming Ezra's psyche, the film fails to capture his tangled, tortured mental state, in part because its fractured-chronology narrative is a structural mess. The script's flip-flopping between the past and present (circa 1999) is so clunky and unfocused that confusion often reigns, thus undermining any clear portrait of its subject. Speaking of which, the decision to shoot Ezra in English proves an equally serious miscalculation, sabotaging not only some fine, natural performances from the all-African cast (save for Richard Gant's American general), but also too many key plot points conveyed via the dialogue of its game yet far-from-fluent stars.
New York Times (registration req'd) Stephen Holden
The title character of “Ezra,” Newton I. Aduaka’s scorching portrait of an African child who is kidnapped and turned into a soldier for a rebel militia, is first seen as an innocent little boy crossing a bridge on his way to school. Inside, a teacher scrawls the date, July 13, 1992, on the blackboard and assigns the pupils an essay, “Why I Love My Country.”
Then, out of nowhere, armed soldiers appear in the courtyard, setting the building on fire and inciting panic. Rounding up the whimpering children, they separate out the boys and herd them at gunpoint into the jungle, where they are told they have to be ready to die for the cause of justice.
“You are children of the revolution,” barks the fearsome rebel leader (Emile Abossolo Mbo). “Forget everything you have learned till now. Today you are born again as children of this nation. You will fight and die for her.” Marching exercises and weapons instruction immediately commence.
Suddenly a movie that promised to be a straightforward exploration of the kind of forced child soldiering shown in “Blood Diamond” leaps ahead 10 years to observe the 16-year-old Ezra (Mamodou Turay Kamara) being questioned by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the wake of a civil war. That country, unidentified in the movie, is almost certainly Sierra Leone.
As the rest of the film unfolds in flashbacks, “Ezra” loses its narrative continuity and becomes a choppy, increasingly confused jumble of Ezra’s memories while he is being interrogated. Although he is assured that the commission, modeled after one in South Africa, was not created to fix blame and assign punishment, it has a prosecutorial tone.
The crucial event on which it focuses is an attack on Ezra’s village on Jan. 6, 1999, when this ragtag militia had orders to amputate the villagers’ hands and feet to prevent them from voting. (Hardly any of the butchery is shown.) Ezra, who participated, might have killed his own parents. What does he remember?
One witness at the hearings is Onitcha (Mariame N’Diaye), his sister, who can communicate only in sign language and by writing because her tongue was cut out during the attack. As the story is pieced together, we also meet Ezra’s militant young wife, Mariam (Mamusu Kallon), the daughter of Maoists.
Mr. Aduaka, the film’s Nigerian-born director, deserves credit for attempting something that was probably impossible. Most of the movie takes place inside Ezra’s brainwashed, drug-scarred mind as he futilely tries to remember what happened. His amnesia may go beyond post-traumatic stress disorder. It isn’t until near the end of “Ezra” that we observe the preparations for that attack, during which the soldiers, now teenagers, are given powerful amphetamine injections before going into battle.
In a drugged frenzy, living without food or sleep for three days, they become mindless killing machines whose rampage ends only when they are literally unable to move. In such an altered state, remembrance may be less a matter of repressing atrocities than of having no coherent consciousness while committing them.
“Ezra” refrains from showing most of the gory details. It reveals only what Ezra is able to remember in the pieces of his story shown more or less chronologically. After he and his wife observe the rebel leader killing a soldier who talks back to him, they flee the militia. Both are now aware that their leader is secretly exchanging diamonds from the mine near the campsite for weapons and drugs provided by corrupt European traders; meanwhile, Ezra and his fellow soldiers have been living on the edge of starvation.
By this point the movie’s sense of time is as vague as Ezra’s perception of it. Chaos is all he knows. Making “Ezra” even harder to follow, and undermining its authenticity, is the fact that its mostly African cast speaks in a heavily accented English.
Mr. Kamara’s glowering lead performance, however, is riveting. He doesn’t try to elicit sympathy for his character, only to present him as a victim of war; there are probably tens of thousands like him.
Mamoudu Turay Kamara is brooding, charismatic and stylish as
Ezra, a sixteen-year-old trained killing machine who has escaped from "The
Brotherhood," the rebel army in what is obviously Sierra Leone, though not
named here. He is an innocent boy of nine in a prologue when the rebels overrun
his school and kidnap him. Ezra is a Sierra Leone civil war story told, unlike
Edward Zwick's effective but Euro-centric 'Blood Diamond,' entirely from the
African point of view and with Africans in all the main roles. Its strongest
point is probably its authentic look. The director is a Nigerian who lives in
In the frame-story of the film, Ezra stands before a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (on the South African pattern) headed by American Mac Mondale (Richard Gant) and his sister Onitcha (Mariame N'Diaye), though she has had her tongue cut out, bears witness that he was present in an attack on the family village in which their own parents were killed and may even have been the one who killed them. Before such attacks, including this one, the boy soldiers are injected by their superiors with amphetamines, so they can fight for four days, killing heedlessly, in a state of wild excitement and with no shred of a moral sense. After two days if they don't eat, Ezra says, they hallucinate and see demons all around them. After many such experiences the boys develop protective amnesia. The Commission isn't a trial, but Mac Mondale wants Ezra to confess to crimes. He won't. He denies any memory of them.
In its opening passage about the young kidnapped Ezra the film sketches in how the new recruits are indoctrinated, motivated by fear, and brainwashed to forget their families and live for the cause, worshiping their AK-47's. "No hand, no vote" was the rule of the raids: villagers' hands were cut off to frighten them from voting. Ezra has plenty of trauma, but this atrocity is depicted more graphically in 'Blood Diamond.' A surprise and shock: to find that there are girl soldiers too. One Ezra meets up with, Mariam (Mamusu Kallon), becomes the mother of his child. While he can't remember how to read, she comes from a Maoist intellectual journalist father and joined up out of conviction.
Ezra eventually leaves "the Brotherhood" with others, including Mariam, in protest because they are not being fed properly. We also get glimpses of the subject of Blood Diamond, the whites who trade weapons and also drugs for diamonds, the glittering but tainted fruits of this warfare.
It's important to have this material in a film with authentic settings and actors and from the boy soldier's point of view. The film points out at the end that there are about 300,000 child soldiers fighting on the globe, 120,000 of them in Africa.
'Ezra' is consistent in its convincing look, but otherwise marred by some very serious flaws. The framework of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is its first undoing, because it leads the screenplay into a chaotic series of flashbacks whose chronology is impossible to follow; some reviewers have commented that their order is as blasted as Ezra's drug-addled and traumatized mind. And in the switching back and forth between the flashbacks and the Commission proceedings, the latter are increasingly overwhelmed by the war drama and begin to seem anticlimactic.
The chronology of the various flashbacks becomes even more confusing as Ezra's escape from the Brotherhood gets mixed in with his earlier service, and the rhythm of the story is hobbled. This is one reason why things are confusing. Equally damaging to the natural flow is the fact that all characters speak English rather than whatever they might actually have spoken in individual scenes (Sierra Leone's official language is English but there are 24 native tongues). And to make things worse the voices are post-dubbed, so they're noticeably out of sink. Even Mamoudu Turay Kamara often delivers his English lines in a stilted manner, and you can see the mouths moving before the voices come out. In a few scenes the dialogue is barely comprehensible.
Given how sketchy the story becomes in this treatment, it would be better to read one of several books on the subject of boy soldiers in Africa, notably Ismael Beah's 'A Long Way Gone: Memories of a Boy Soldier' (Feb. 2007), which presents the experience eloquently and in more detail, though even Beah's memories are not always completely reliable, for the same reason that Ezra's are absent: protective amnesia and damaged recall due to drugs and stress.
'Ezra' was introduced at Sundance 15 months ago where it was nominated for the Grand Jury prize; received several awards in Africa, and has been in limited US release since February. Given these facts and the film's inherent weaknesses, the decision to include it in SFIFF 2008 is open to question.
Seen as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival May 2008.
Offscreen.com :: “African” Cinema: A Comparative Look at Blood ... “African” Cinema: A Comparative Look at Blood Diamond and Ezra ~ Nigeria vs. Hollywood ~ by Becky Korman from Offscreen
Ezra Olivier Barlet from Africultures, March 27, 2007
Junior Journal: Child soldiers: first-hand witnesses 3 stories by Jane Peters, Brima Lakoh, and Mohamed Kuteh from Sierra Leone
“Modern History of Sierra Leone”. Cry Free Town. History: from 1990 to 1999
Vertigo Magazine, Article - EVENT HORIZON: Letter from Ouagadougou ... Graeme McElheran from Vertigo magazine from a Film festival (great photo) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Spring, 2007
Director interview from Plan USA, March 7, 2007
indieWIRE Michael Joshua Rowin
Filmcritic.com Chris Cabin
The New York Sun (S. James Snyder) feature and an interview with the director
I always thought it was the things you don’t choose that makes you who you are. —Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck)
A surprisingly complex film that isn’t over when it’s over, that leaves you wondering how you got from point A to point B when so much in between seemed ridiculously contrived, almost defying belief, yet somehow in the end, there’s still plenty to like about this film, much of it from going against the grain. First of all there’s Casey Affleck (Patrick Kenzie), absolutely nobody’s version of a hero, especially fresh off his performance where the title of the film outright calls his character a coward, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007), recalled awhile back as one of the crazy lunkheads in Gus van Sant’s GERRY (2002), who now appears as one of the strangest leading characters, as he could just as easily be anyone, the kind of guy who disappears unnoticed in a crowd. But here he’s Patrick Kenzie, a private eye with a gun and a beautiful babe (Michelle Monaghan), a short-fused badass who stands up to punks on the street as well as thugs in all walks of life, keeping his brain on alert while the world is spinning out of control all around him. This is as improbable as Elliot Gould playing a mumbling Philip Marlowe in a sun tinged take on Raymond Chandler’s film noir world in Robert Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE (1973), which by the way also caught us off guard, but worked. Second of all there’s the man behind the camera, a former tabloid king whose acting career and reputation have fizzled to record lows, as he’s become an easy target, routine fodder for jokes condemning him as a lamebrain to the second hand bin. What’s he trying to do here, take on the persona of George Clooney as a clever mastermind behind the camera? And third there’s Morgan Freeman, a man whose reputation is rock solid in his role as chief of police, a man’s man, a leader of men, the kind of guy you would want to have in your corner in a time of trouble, as he’s wise enough to pass for several men. And finally there’s Amy Ryan (at the time of the release, who?), as unsympathetic a character as the screen has seen in ages, and yet it is this director who remains undaunted by her scandalous behavior, who by the end of this film makes us all question ourselves, like who are we to judge? Yet judgments are made throughout this film, most with enormous consequences, which makes this a highly provocative crime thriller about a stolen baby, where a private eye and his good looking partner are called upon to look through the cracks and scour the dregs of what the police usually overlook or can’t see.
Opening in first person narration, this initially has the feel of a literary warhorse like SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1982), where the poetic thoughts invoke something outside our comprehension, beyond our grasp, yet then veers into the working class neighborhoods of Boston in a completely unpretentious view of the world, where a baby has gone missing and a distraught family is on the news begging for her safe return. Suspicious of the police, the family hires this improbable young couple, hoping they know people who don’t talk to the police. Into the seedy underworld they go, with the beautiful girl following his every move into the gutter, through back room bars, into the homes of crack dealers, where we learn that the foul-mouthed crackhead mother (Amy Ryan) with the missing girl moves within these circles, a mother who may have put her own daughter at risk just for a chance to get high. Eventually the private eyes team up with a couple of veteran detectives (Ed Harris and Nick Poole), an unsavory relationship from the outset, each openly suspicious of the other, where Kenzie is told to “Go back to your Harry Potter books.” What’s most surprising perhaps to the viewer is Affleck’s immediate ascension to lead man on the case, where he appears more like a cop than a cop, yet he’s not supposed to be a cop, just a guy from the neighborhood. This is the first of a series of improbable occurrences that stretch one’s credulity, but Affleck makes it work with his profanity laced chutzpah, standing up to thugs and hoods like he’s been doing it all his life, showing the kind of balls that gains immediate acceptance into a cop’s world. As the danger mounts, so do the unsavory characters. The division between male and female is tested, as they’re challenged in very different ways. The tense atmosphere makes it hard to separate the good guys from the bad, as they’re continuously interwoven into each other’s lives, mirror reflections of this kind of sick underworld where intense flare ups are routine, where staring down the barrel of a gun becomes the measure of a man, not the kind of world most of us would choose to enter, which makes it all the more intriguing when we witness moral leaps of faith.
This brooding contemplative thriller is a series of mood swings that moves like a chessboard across this murky landscape, where every action causes an unexpected reaction, with inexplicable consequences that only grow darker as the film progresses. Monaghan is overly pretty and never feels right when the going gets rough, but the rest of the cast has a hard edge that’s been through tough times. Written by MYSTIC RIVER (2003) novelist Dennis Lehane, we’re once again asked to examine modern day morals under siege, where there’s a thick layer of grime like quicksand just under the surface pulling us all too easily into this morass of moral ambiguity where it’s much simpler to look the other way, and righteous indignity has a youthful, idealist resemblance to Crusader Rabbit with a witty arcane charm that feels instantly outdated and out of place. Despite some off-the-rails plot twists, this is a film of ideas where the believability of the actors makes all the difference in the world and the strong performances are supported by the weight of the film, a surprisingly strong effort that never bows to the outsider money interests of happy endings commercialism and maintains its integrity right through to the end in a shot that visually recalls the final shot of Ryan Gosling in HALF NELSON (2006), but offers a bleaker ray of hope.
It’s no rare thing that a film gets buzz for its
director. It’s a rare thing when that director has never made a film before.
It’s an even rarer thing when the film by that first-timer turns out to be as
astonishingly confident and shrewd as actor-turned-director Ben Affleck’s Gone
Baby Gone. (Apparently
Affleck also directed a hilariously titled 16-minute 1993 short “I Killed My
Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook, and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at
Disney,” and wouldn’t I love to see that...) Based upon the novel by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote the book upon which Mystic
River was based), this is the story of a missing child, the young
private investigator who is trying to find her, and the sordid underbelly of contemporary
America that is exposed by the conflicting human urges a child in jeopardy
elicits from an array of good and decent people... not to mention the much
baser drives that parenthood cannot contain. Did Helene McCready (Amy Ryan: Capote)
sell her four-year-old daughter for cash? Trade her for drugs? Let her become a
pawn in a feud among street thugs? This is the direction PI Patrick Kenzie’s
(Casey Affleck: Ocean’s
Thirteen) inquiry is taking, and where it shifts from there is even
more appalling, in a depressingly desperate way. The bleak victory here is in
Affleck’s wickedly unforgiving eye for the insularity of neighborhood, for
authentic working-class Boston, populated by the kinds of real faces, ravaged
by drink or drugs or plain old despair, that we seldom see in studio films, and
by small-minded attitudes about class pride that are the opposite of the
self-respect they pretend to. Affleck’s feature debut is so visually and
thematically astute, in fact, that it makes you look anew at
Child-abduction stories are a sticky proposition, because their inherent suspense invites the most sickening sort of exploitation, as audiences are left to wonder what's being done to an innocent, defenseless creature. But Gone Baby Gone, based on the Dennis Lehane novel and directed with steady assurance by Ben Affleck, works hard to defuse this tension in favor of a deeper, more unexpected meditation on parenthood. Behind the camera, Affleck's presence is as modest and workmanlike as his performances in front of it have often been brash; as a Bostonian and a new father, he has a strong connection to the material that makes itself felt in the well-tended performances and the authentic portrait of working-class Dorchester. There's little pretense to it, and none of the Method distractions that nearly sabotaged Clint Eastwood's recent Lehane adaptation Mystic River. The film simply dives headlong into a swamp of ambiguities and considers how to do right in an imperfect situation.
Casey Affleck probably wouldn't be the first casting choice of many filmmakers who aren't related to him, but the qualities that make him such a curious leading man make him the right choice, too. A more assertive actor might not have suggested what a predicament his character's private detective gets himself into when he agrees to look into an abduction case. Though the police, led by unit chief Morgan Freeman and his ace detective Ed Harris, are using all their resources to track down the missing daughter of junkie mother Amy Ryan, the girl's aunt (Amy Madigan) hires Casey Affleck and his partner/girlfriend Michelle Monaghan to pursue a supplemental investigation. The P.I.'s access to Dorchester's seamier elements ("the guys who don't talk to police") gives him an advantage, but he naturally bumps heads with the authorities as a result.
Though Ryan dutifully plays the role of tearful parent for the camera, her negligence and substance abuse are nearly as much an issue as her lost child, which provides a fascinating subtext to the investigation. If the girl is found, her return won't exactly be the feel-good story of the year. On this point, Gone Baby Gone has a gratifyingly realistic take on what child-welfare issues are really like, and it makes things more complicated for the people in charge of tracking her down. Credit for the pungent dialogue, which is nearly as salty as The Departed's and often as funny, should probably go more to Lehane than to the screenplay co-written by Affleck and Aaron Stockard, but Affleck gets near-perfect performances from his actors, with Harris a particular standout as a detective whose emotions get the better of him. Though its procedural goes a little soft in the middle, Gone Baby Gone quietly accumulates in power, leading to one of the more subtly devastating final shots in recent memory.
Amazing, really, how quickly fortunes and perceptions can
As Lehane’s fans know, Gone Baby Gone is actually
the fourth book in a series centered on a private-dick couple, Patrick Kenzie
(Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan). The movie, co-written by
Affleck with his friend Aaron Stockard (who actually has been credited
as Matt Damon’s assistant!), wisely starts from scratch, offering only a few
vague hints regarding the pair’s troubled past. Longtime residents of
If it seems like I’m being deliberately cagey about plot details, that’s because Lehane’s story involves a truly wacko twist, one that strains credulity to an almost crippling degree. It’s up to the actors to make this revelation seem remotely plausible, and they collectively do a heroic job, aided by Affleck’s intimate knowledge of his hometown’s geographical and socioeconomic niceties. Casey Affleck, with his frail physique and slightly strangled voice, at first seems an odd choice for Kenzie, who’s meant to be something of a badass; only with hindsight does it become clear how crucial that amalgam of strength and weakness is to the character’s ultimate destination. But Gone Baby Gone’s true MVP is Amy Ryan (HBO’s The Wire), who plays the missing girl’s spectacularly unfit mother—a coked-up disaster in stiletto heels. It’s a truly bracing performance, equal parts blithe disregard and desperate need; Ryan somehow manages to make the woman at once Gorgon-level monstrous and indelibly human, which is precisely what’s required if the movie’s devastating final scene is going to make any emotional sense.
It’s that final scene, more than anything else, that makes Gone Baby Gone feel like a genuine tragedy, and Ben Affleck deserves enormous credit for remaining faithful to Lehane’s uncompromisingly bleak vision. I do find it unfortunate that arriving at this powerful moment necessitated such a preposterous series of events—in the end, it’s just hard to buy that certain people would do the things we discover they’ve done, however honorable their intentions. And yet few recent American movies have been so willing to question the value of rectitude, to suggest that right and wrong can sometimes be nearly impossible to determine. Gone Baby Gone ends not in a hailstorm of bullets or a volley of shouted recriminations, but with the almost offhand shrug of a man coming face to face with the consequences of a decision he’s made—a decision in which he chose to uphold every standard of justice this country was founded upon. To borrow a phrase from Spike Lee, he did the right thing. And he now beholds a private hell of his own making. Maybe Affleck can relate.
The sense of community has vanished. The neighborhood is no
more. We live in isolated exclusivity from each other, no longer keeping up with
the Joneses, but rather avoiding them outright. We’ve got politicians saying it
takes a village to raise our kids, and yet the notion today of such
togetherness is so oblique as to practically blot out the white flight suburban
sun. Privacy has been replaced by isolationism, imagined horrendous actions
playing out a mere few feet from your own sordid secrets. And we don’t care, as
long as we are safe. As he wanders through his
In the hands of first time director Ben Affleck, Gone Baby Gone arrives as one of 2007’s finest films. Taken from a novel by Mystic River author Dennis Lehane, this simple story of an abducted little girl, the surrounding investigation, and the suspicious mother at the center, has the kind of narrative power and acting prowess that elevates it above other like minded dramas. By capturing a sense of society lost, by using both the media focus and the behind closed doors denouements that seem to follow such situations, Affleck produces tragedy on an epic Greek scale and moviemaking of classic neo-noir artistry. In combination with some of the most riveting performances in recent memory, as well as a true sense of setting, what we wind up with is an incredibly dense and layered exploration of human ethics.
The saga of little Amanda McCready is already an overhyped
press sensation when her distraught aunt Beatrice contacts local investigator
Kenzie. Along with his live-in girlfriend/partner Angie Gennaro, the couple is
known for helping debt collectors locate deadbeats. Reluctant to take on the
case at first, a conversation with the child’s blasé, drug addled mother Helen
changes everything. Realizing a local dope dealer may be involved (the
kidnapping may have something to do with stolen drop money), Kenzie confronts
the hood. His responses raise even more questions. Worse, a local pedophile has
just been released from jail, and he’s holed up in a squalid shack with some
fellow addicts. All signs point to an imminent threat to Amanda’s well being.
With the help from a pair of
To give away more of the plot would absolutely ruin Gone Baby Gone. One of this film’s greatest strengths is the fact finding interactions between star Casey Affleck (Ben’s brilliant brother) and the individuals he interrogates. There’s a snarky, smug strategy and streetwise strength in how Kenzie handles these situations. He relies on alliances, long standing reputation, and an almost omniscient knowledge of underworld mechanics to dig behind the bullshit and discover the truth. These wonderfully evocative moments, scattered throughout the film like rewards at the end of a complicated maze, are the kind of payoffs we anticipate and expect. After all, hints and suggestions can only take us so far. Director Affleck understands this, and purposefully allows the verbal fireworks to close up a few loose ends before unraveling a couple more.
This is also a movie about attitude. Among the various
victims and suspects presented, we can see a well honed stance, a formed façade
given to the rest of the world to judge or junk. From the seemingly straight
laced detectives who combine caring with a well earned callousness, to the
McCready family and friends who offer conflicting messages of disgust and
despair, the universe of this
So does the acting. While his turn in The Assassination of
Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was amazing, Casey Affleck’s work
here is a revelation. He is so radiant, so unabashed in his studied swagger,
that we breathlessly anticipate his next move. During a crucial shoot-out
between Kenzie and the aforementioned house of drugs and depravity, the
combination of fear and fierceness illustrate Affleck’s approach perfectly. He
can talk the talk and walk the walk. Equally good are Ed Harris and John Ashton
There are many other brilliant turns here – Morgan Freeman’s cloistered captain, Amy Madigan’s proud Irish aunt, Amy Ryan’s hedonistic hellion of a mom, Edi Gathegi’s slang spouting Haitian don – all proving that, when it comes to directing, Affleck really understands actors. But he’s also in tune with the artform’s more ephemeral facets. From the opening shots, where the Boston neighborhood is painted in brutal, authentic strokes (the extras give the concept of local color a dark, disenfranchised quality), to the set piece sequences where the plot points play out in electric, kinetic splashes, this is a tour de force that truly lives up to the tag. Gone Baby Gone shows a mastery of all the cinematic basics. Affleck then goes a step further and suggests that he knows how to turn said strategies into masterpieces.
Yet it’s the theme of ethical dilemma that this film returns to time and time again. Everyone here is in a quandary – from the victim whose dope-fueled lifestyle choices may have resulted in the literal loss of her child, to the PI who is hoping a successful resolution of this case will lead to more legitimate work – and how they respond to and decide these issues stand as Gone Baby Gone’s biggest reveals. Even characters we don’t think have a backdoor agenda turn out to be trading on their principles. It makes for a moody, complex entertainment, the kind of narrative that drags you in different directions to the point where you can’t anticipate where you’re going next – and you don’t really mind. The journey is so stunning that its frequent bouts of unbelievable cruelty really don’t distract.
Indeed, the only negative thing one can say about this film is that director Affleck’s Jenny from the Block tabloid rep may ruin the chances for a wider audience embrace. This is the kind of movie that resurrects your faith in film - not just as a diversion, but as the creator of meaningful human mythology. From its initial crawl to its final dour beat, Gone Baby Gone delivers on its premise, its promise, and its propositions. We may not like where it goes, and the images it offers can be too harsh for mellowed mainstream eyes, but the resulting work is celluloid at its most classical and filmmaking at its finest. Ben Affleck deserves a lot of credit for reinventing himself as a talent to be reckoned with, not ridiculed. Like the neighborhoods sitting at the center of his amazing movie, such tabloid sentiments are now gone, baby…gone.
There Will Be Choice: Why Gone Baby Gone Is the Best Film of 2007 Robert C. Cumbow from 24LiesASecond, May 11, 2008
Gone Baby Gone (2007) Bryant Frazer from Deep Focus
Screen International Tim Grierson
Slant Magazine Nick Schager
Gone Baby Gone Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack
eFilmCritic Reviews Peter Sobczynski
Film-Forward.com Adam Schartoff
Monsters and Critics Colin MacLean
Seattle Post-Intelligencer William Arnold
New York Times (registration req'd) Manohla Dargis
USA (123 mi) 2010 ‘Scope
A film that seems to be
an anthem to Charlestown, a Boston neighborhood known for its generational proclivity
for armed robbery and car thieves, that is told with such a solemn tone that is
bears a resemblance to Spike Lee’s 25th HOUR (2002), which became an homage to
9/11 in New York City, as in both films, there’s an underlying acknowledgement
of the terrible price of lives lost, yet there’s also a lyrical upswing, as
both feature oddly poetic gestures of hope, of a world that could somehow be
just a little bit better. First and
foremost, the film is beautifully immersed in Affleck’s home town, his one true
love, the working class neighborhoods of
This is a white
knuckles bank heist thriller that moves with electrifying energy, that shows
with meticulous precision how heavy weapons can prevail in a bank robbery, how
people are compliant when a gun gets stuck in their faces, as the overriding
concern under the immediate circumstances is not the bank, but that no one
wants to die. This film shows how easily
one arrives at that heart pumping moment when you’d do anything to comply. In a well executed heist, this takes about
ten seconds, at which point it’s up to the robber’s sophistication to find out
how to get the maximum reward in the least amount of time. This particular crew is shrewd at covering
their tracks, confident they are leaving no evidence behind, as their skill set
in their profession is near brilliant. All
throughout though we’re expected to believe these are just a couple of boys
from the block. There are more changes
of professional uniforms shown here in the course of their dirty business that
by the end, one wonders where the telephone booth is that Clark Kent uses to
change into Superman. Any team this good
would probably have mob connections, but this appears to be a ragtag bunch of
guys from the old neighborhood who just happen to have grown up together. Chris Cooper excels in a scene as Affleck’s
father in prison, where the generational ties run deep, yet he exudes a
fatherly anger and despair at his helplessness to change his
circumstances. In one of the best
scenes, the police pull them all in for questioning, where Affleck recognizes a
local cop from the neighborhood, asking that cop what he would call someone who
grew up in a poor but close-knit neighborhood where everyone knew everyone
else’s secrets and then used that information to put away as many of them
behind bars as possible? This is
followed by macho maneuvering by the FBI where Affleck instantly realizes they
have nothing on him. But this is the
heart of the film, as neighborhoods are comprised of friends with well kept
secrets, which is why they remain friends.
While this is a character study of a criminal group psychology, it also shows Affleck as a conflicted and unwilling participant, as after awhile he wants out, where there’s something of a hugely contrived love story at the center of all this with Rebecca Hall, where he envisions a different life for himself through his connection with her, where thoughts run through his mind similar to Brian Cox’s dream sequence spoken to his son Monty (Ed Norton) at the end of 25th HOUR, where a single decision could affect the rest of his lifetime, as it could literally reconnect an entirely new set of possibilities. Much of this turns out to be Affleck fighting as much with his own partners, who don’t want him to leave, as with his condemned soul, where he’s trying to find a redemptive path. This doesn’t have nearly the punch or the redemptive poetry of the Spike Lee film, one of his best, especially coming so soon after 9/11, but Affleck does generate astonishing suspense, as these guys are always on the alert for getting caught, always living on the edge where something could go wrong at any moment, yet the audience is mesmerized by the brilliantly well executed heist sequences and the frantic car chases which are among the best on celluloid, though in typical Hollywood fashion one notices for all the bullets flying, few people get shot. It’s a surprisingly well-paced film throughout, entertaining as hell, leaving an ambiguity at the end which may be challenging for the audience, as it can be a bit confusing telling the good guys from the bad. Even with Johnny Depp playing John Dillinger in PUBLIC ENEMIES (2009), we knew he was a bad guy, a crook with a heartless soul, but Affleck’s character is still left struggling for his, as if there’s the slightest possibility that he could turn into a decent guy, even when all the evidence points otherwise. This sleight of hand trick may work for some, as a good lead performance can charm the pants off of anyone, but the real talent here is not in any real character development, as in the much superior Australian film ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010), but in the kinetic energy displayed in the chase sequences mixed in with the suspense of some daredevil heists.
On-screen titles note the high number of carjacking and robbery cases in Boston's Charlestown neighborhood, but Ben Affleck's sophomore directorial outing is less intrigued by how the city that pioneered the Independence could have become the nation's capital of blue-collar crime than it is determined to stitch a cops n' robbers yarn out of Michael Mann's least interesting standbys. Casting himself as the center of a gridlock of heists and familial vendettas that Jon Hamm's FBI agent describes as "fucking Townie hopscotch," he plays the incongruously sensitive organizer of a motley crew of outlaws, torn between loyalty toward his volatile partner in crime (Jeremy Renner, bursting with Cagneyisms) and love for the bank manager he took hostage (Rebecca Hall). The action is shot with heat and a feeling for taut, battered, tattooed flesh, but the film lacks the specific sense of locale and human-sized menace that Affleck's debut, Gone Baby Gone, exuded. One can imagine the James Gray of Two Lovers gravitating toward Hall's affectingly confused character; unfortunately, with Affleck behind and in front of the camera, you're left with a fatuous star vehicle that leaves little doubt about who gets the most soulful close-ups.
The Onion A.V. Club review [B-] Sam Adams
As impressively controlled as Gone Baby Gone was, Ben Affleck’s directorial debut had a slightly airless quality, as if the film had been finished, then sealed behind a layer of plastic. His second feature, The Town, is a looser and more sprawling affair, more conventional, but also more assured. It’s also more of an Affleck movie. Though he stayed behind the camera for his first outing, this time, he reserves the central role for himself: that of a professional bank robber who finally gets a whiff of the straight life.
The son of convicted larcenist Chris Cooper, now serving a life bid in prison, Affleck is the brains behind his four-man crew, which includes lifelong friend and occasional sparring partner Jeremy Renner. They’re prolific enough to draw the attention of FBI agents Jon Hamm and Titus Welliver, but careful enough not to show their faces or leave any useful evidence behind—at least until wild card Renner decides to nab bank manager Rebecca Hall as collateral for their quick getaway. Physically, Hall gets away unharmed, but she’s emotionally wrecked, enough that she falls too quickly for Affleck, who comes sniffing around at Renner’s behest to make sure she doesn’t think about going to the cops. As Affleck and Hall’s relationship deepens and turns romantic, the increasingly volatile Renner presses for bigger and less well-prepared jobs, culminating in an attack on one of old Boston’s crown jewels.
Although the movie is set in
As a director, Ben Affleck
is more of a grafter than a dreamer. The same could be said of his writing.
Hell, why don’t we throw his acting in there as well? Brushing aside the light
alt-indie trappings of his well liked directorial debut, ‘Gone Baby Gone’, this
new soulful shoot-em-up, ‘The Town’, plays it straighter than a pool cue,
offering the sort of solid, proficiently written cops ‘n’ robbers yarn that is
the stuff of a thousand 'Bluffer's Guide to Moviemaking' tomes.
The title refers to
‘I watch a lot of TV – “CSI”, “CSI:
The film follows the genre rule book line by line, detail by detail. Doug hopes that his One Last Job (pinching the concession stand haul from the Boston Red Sox’s home ground) will be his ticket out of the ghetto and that he’ll be able to live out his days in
It's hard to fault 'The Town' as a slice of robust craftmanship. But it's a movie that has little to distinguish it from a very large collection of similar tales.
You may now officially forget about Armaggedon,
Affleck's second effort in the director's chair, following his superb "Gone Baby Gone" back in 2007, once again lands him back in the mean streets of working class Boston. Based on the award-winning novel "Prince of Thieves" by Chuck Hogan, the story outline in "The Town" is mostly nothing new, as the majority of it is a routine police procedural involving FBI agents on the hunt for a group of talented bank robbers led by Affleck and Jeremy Renner. The plot itself doesn't have many surprises, for we in the audience know that the robbers will always get away until the climactic stand-off with the police towards the end. Affleck knows he isn't creating anything original here with the plot, but he successfully takes the genre of the inner-city crime thriller and executes it with great precision - with superb acting performances, a sprinkling of tender romance, and a heart-pounding level of suspense throughout. Oh yeah, and did I mention that those nun costumes they wear when committing the robberies are really badass?
The performances themselves are the heart of the film, as Affleck has cast actors in roles that make them completely believable and allow the audience to care about them. Blake Lively is outstanding in her very small role as a drugged out stripper, even though she has no more than 10 minutes of screen time. She is completely unrecognizable from her well-known role on "Gossip Girl." Jeremy Renner is terrifying as Affleck's co-leader of the gang. One can sense through his character just how much this life of crime in part of his blood, even if he tries to hide his true emotions by hiding behind violence and intimidation. The talented veteran Chris Cooper is also spectacular as Affleck's father in prison. His one, 3-minute long scene with Affleck behind glass could be a training manual for young actors wondering how it's done. Everyone else in the film, including Affleck, is strong and does the best they can at making their characters appear authentic.
Affleck appears to also have a great understanding of suspense, pacing, and editing, as I was completely immersed in every moment of the film - from the gripping opening minute until the ending credits. The film rarely feels like a typical slam-bam action movie (until the last 20 minutes when the film goes a bit over the top with a larger than necessary climax), but rather as a character-driven drama that exposes the culture of the people in this neighborhood who live in this cycle of generational crime. It's just a part of who these people are and what they know. Some of them desire to get out of it, but then they feel like they are "too good" for their friends by leaving them behind, as is true with the struggle of leaving any type of criminal gang. Affleck does a solid job in the script department by allowing the fast-paced dialogue amongst these characters to feel natural. He even throws in an occasional witty and hysterical line to break the film's serious tension. One that I especially liked was a satirical reference to crime shows like CSI and Bones. Some of the dialogue is difficult to hear given the strong
The action / bank robberies are exceptionally directed and worth the price of admission themselves, as one would expect in a film focused on umm, drum roll please…..bank robbers. However, they are intelligently spaced apart throughout the film's 2 hour run time to never make them too mundane. There are only 3 total robberies / heists in the film, with a great deal of character development in between. There is actually an enormous amount of tension and build-up between the 1st and 2nd heists in the film, which allows the 2nd heist to have that much more of an effect on the audience when it does occur. The only flaw in the direction of these scenes, is when the film goes for an overblown climax in the last 20 minutes. I suppose he was trying to please the action-friendly crowd, or the studio required him to add in more action. I'm not sure. He just adds in too much gunfire and SWAT teams to make it appear more Hollywood-esquire and unrealistic, and that takes away a bit of the reality and honesty from the first 75% of the film. However, that flaw aside, 90% of what is in this film is superior to most of anything shown in theaters so far this year, with the exception of Chris Nolan's masterful "Inception." It is well worth your time, and it demonstrates Affleck's true talent both as a scribe and director. Now I think it's time for all of us to tell
The Hollywood Reporter review Sheri Linden
Entertainment Weekly review [A-] Lisa Schwarzbaum
Chronicle review [3.5/5]
The New York Times review A.O. Scott
USA (120 mi) 2012 ‘Scope Official site
Every one of Affleck’s three directed films have contained a contrived and heavy handed plot twist which dramatically elevate the theatrical material, where the viewer must suspend reality as the direction instead goes for Hollywood melodrama, oversaturating the screen with a kind of hyper-tense reality that exists only in fiction, where he simply takes poetic license to supercharge his movies. Some may find the amped up suspense entertaining, where he often matches it with excellent musical choices, such as Dire Straits and Led Zeppelin here, but there’s also an underlying deceit going on in the relationship with viewers, where the director is not being straightforward or honest, as instead he’s exaggerating for the Hollywood cinematic effect he’s looking for. It’s this manipulative dishonesty that some might find suspect, as it taints his prodigal talents as a director.
lie here is the Americanization of history, as told through a
That said, with Argo: Too Good To Be True, Because It Isn’t, Affleck
largely draws from the accounts of Antonio Mendez’s 1999 memoir, The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in
the CIA, events that were kept classified until President Clinton
declassified them in 1997, and Joshuah Bearman’s 2007 article from Wired magazine (Wired article). Affleck plays Mendez, who won the CIA's
Intelligence Star of Valor for his role in engineering the escape of six Americans
from Tehran in 1980, and the film is largely based from his self-serving
viewpoint. The irony, of course, is that
it was the CIA’s idea to invent a Hollywood style escape, using a fictitious
movie company scouting locations for a sci-fi movie in Tehran, using an actual
script and drawing storyboards, where the six Americans were given fake
Canadian passports, suggesting they are all part of a Canadian movie production
team scouting Iranian locations before all leaving the country shortly
afterwards. The U.S. government was knee
deep in a state of demoralization and utter paralysis during the hostage
crisis, as there was little they could do to counter the negative publicity of
Americans being held hostage and gas prices suddenly skyrocketing, as if the
perpetrators were actually being financially rewarded for this outrageous
act. But there is jubilation in the
streets of Iran and the seeds of revolution, as they get rid of the Shah, an iron-handed tyrannical despot who
was installed by the CIA in 1953 at the American Embassy against a
democratically elected, but Soviet backed Prime Minister, so their liberty is
gained, at least in their eyes, by standing up to the “Great Satan.” Traitors and collaborators are strung up on
the streets as a message to citizens that the last vestiges of the old ways
have been severed and a new day has begun.
The real untold story, which remains secretly classified to this day, is
how newly elected President Ronald Reagan orchestrated an Algiers
Accords, which many suspect was an arms for hostages deal with the
Iranians, where on the day of his inauguration all the hostages were
mysteriously released. But of course,
that history hasn’t been written yet. So
instead we get this smaller version of a feel good story, where
Perhaps the best part of the movie is the daring escape sequence, which is another example of the great fictionalization of history, turning it into an homage to DIE HARD (1988), but despite the seemingly overwhelming odds, where every possible obstacle must be overcome and everything that can go wrong does go wrong, all ratcheting up the intense pressure of the moment, that tension was generated with more believability and suspense than the fake film crew’s location inspection. The team is quickly swallowed up by the streets of Tehran which are literally teeming with hostile demonstrators, where the portrayal of blood curdling anger and hatred all seemingly projected at them is a perfect example of Hollywood hysteria, using stereotypes and demonizing images to depict a near surreal world of fanaticized hatred when they are surrounded by an angry mob, a dreamlike nightmare that is in every respect an unmitigating disaster. The Arab world (including Arab-Americans) has never recovered from this kind of hostile depiction in the movies, remaining fodder for racial profiling, as they will forever be portrayed as the fanatics, even as there are homegrown American fanatics like Timothy McVeigh, John Allen Muhammad, or Charles Whitman. It would be hard to imagine an Arab-American love story coming out of the current Hollywood culture, which makes no attempt to understand or appreciate Islamic culture either in television or the movies, reflecting the prevailing hostile culture of the times, much like the 50’s never portrayed gays or blacks or married couples sleeping together on television. Unfortunately it takes generations before these kinds of negative depictions are overcome. While it should be understood that the initial security breach in 1979 allowed a swarm of Islamic students and militants to overrun the American Embassy, much like recent events where the American Ambassador to Libya was murdered, where in each situation the nation’s long-term tyrannical leader was deposed in disgrace, where pent-up street turbulence fills the void of an absent leadership or authority, where at least in Iran, that legitimate authority was replaced not by a democratically elected leader, but by a Supreme Leader of Iran, a theocratic leader who is the highest ranking political and religious authority in the land. Despite the passing of more than 30 years, little is known about the nation of Iran in the United States, or their way of life, even after a long-term military occupation of neighboring Iraq, as nothing but a constant stream of stereotypes and negative depictions are ever seen in the movies or in the newspaper reports. This film, though thoroughly entertaining, will do nothing to alter that depiction in the eyes of Americans.
Forty years ago, Argo would have been an easy film to overrate; now, the reverse is true. Over the course of three films, Ben Affleck has emerged as an exceptionally solid, resolutely unspectacular director, the kind whose level of understated craft should be a requirement rather than an aspiration. Things being as they are, however, Argo is an unexpected treat, a cracking true(ish) story whose cast is replete with great character actors: Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Zeljko Ivanek, Titus Welliver, Chris Messina, Bob Gunton and Richard Kind, and that’s just for starters. Affleck takes the lead as a CIA ex-filtration expert whose job is to smuggle a half-dozen American embassy workers out of locked-down Tehran in 1979, a largely unknown offshoot of the contemporary hostage crisis. The plan — an absurdity arrived at after anything more plausible has fallen through — is for Affleck to enter the country as the second-rung producer of a Hollywood sci-fi movie looking to shoot in Iran, and the rest of the Americans to pose as the film’s crew, a ruse that involves generating ample publicity for the bogus production. There are soft in-jokes about the parallel prevalence of bullshit in the movie industry and covert intelligence, lots of scenes with men in pointy-collared shirts and scruffy beards involved in tense dialogue exchanges — nothing earth-shattering, but enough for a high-level diversion of a kind presently all too rare. Divorce it from awards-season hype, and Argo holds up fine: There’s no need to pretend it’s something it’s not, when what it is works just fine.
Argo: Too Good To Be True, Because It Isn’t David Edelstein from NPR, October 12, 2012
Ben Affleck's Argo is two-two-TWO movies in one, and while neither is especially original, by merging them Affleck pulls off a coup. First, he gives you espionage with the You Are There zing of a documentary. Then he serves up broad showbiz satire. For his final feat, he blends the two into a pulse-pounding nail-biter of a climax. And this all really happened. Most of it. Except for that climax.
The prologue is newsreel-style. A female narrator recounts the U.S. role in the 1953 Iranian coup that installed our ally, the Shah, the 26 years of human-rights abuses that followed, and the Shiite revolution that sent the despot fleeing to the U.S. and the Ayatollah Khomeini to power. Then it's 1979 and a mob is converging on the American Embassy in Tehran. Affleck deftly cuts between news footage and re-enactments, along with scenes of personnel inside the building shredding and burning classified documents. Six people — four men, two women — slip out a side door before they can be taken hostage along with their colleagues.
In the U.S., CIA agents, among them Bryan Cranston with '70s hair, express the fear that if the six — now hiding in the Canadian ambassador's basement — were discovered, they wouldn't be tossed in with the other hostages but publicly executed. How do you get them out?
Chris Terrio's script makes much of the CIA's blunders, from its prediction that the revolution wouldn't happen to proposed scenarios for the sextet's escape — among them a 300-mile bicycle trip to Turkey. Then unstable, maverick agent Tony Mendez, played by Affleck, hatches a scheme by which the six would leave Iran posing as a film crew on a location scout. It's a preposterous idea. But as Cranston explains to a higher-up, it's the best bad idea they have.
Argo is the name of a script Mendez finds in the mansion of has-been producer Lester Siegel, a fictional composite played by Alan Arkin. The scene's other character isn't fictional. Planet of the Apes makeup man John Chambers, played by John Goodman, was central to this operation.
Arkin and Goodman have the only colorful parts in Argo — the six fugitive Americans are like glorified extras, though Clea DuVall is always good to see, and Scoot McNairy has moments as the skeptic with the awful '70s mustache.
The film's climax, a series of movie-ish narrow escapes, had me leaning forward saying, "Go. Go. Go. Go. Go-go-go-go." I was annoyed, though, to learn that after all the movie's assurances of realism, from the prologue to photos over the credits showing the actors side by side with photos of their real-life counterparts, those terrifying close calls are all invented. If it seems too Hollywood to be true, that's because it is.
And then I thought, if they were going to invent, why not make the fugitives more interesting or Affleck's Mendez less of a lump? But my guess is the movie will be nominated for all kinds of awards and make Affleck an A-list director. Studios can do business with a filmmaker who comes on so serious but has a core of Hollywood shamelessness.
Undeniably rousing, but deeply irresponsible, Argo fans the flames surrounding historical events likely to still remain raw in the memory of many viewers. In Ben Affleck's film, the past is present. Unfolding against the backdrop of the 1979 Iranian revolution and the resulting hostage crisis, the film quite clearly aims to draw parallels between that moment of history and the United States's current and increasingly belligerent attitude toward the Islamic Republic, goaded continually on by a bellicose Israeli state.
In telling the at times whimsical, at times heroic true-life story of C.I.A. "exfiltration" expert Tony Mendez (Affleck), who engineered a daring rescue of six Americans hiding out in the Canadian embassy in Tehran, Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio initially aim for a wider historical picture and a sense of balanced geopolitical understanding. In the largely animated opening sequence, a narrator gives us a quick history lesson which condemns the 1953 C.I.A./British overthrow of democratically elected Iranian president Mohammed Mosaddegh and describes the miserable conditions Iranians endured for decades under the U.S.-backed Shah. Similarly, after the revolution occurs and the militants set about killing any Americans left in the country, a C.I.A. operative admits that the U.S. essentially started the bloodbath by taking out Mosaddegh. Affleck further aims for a sense of moral equivalency by counterpointing Iranian revolutionaries burning the American flag with archival news broadcasts of angry middle-Americans torching the Iranian banner.
But this sense of balance is soon lost and the film becomes an increasingly blinkered tale of the heroic C.I.A. versus the Muslim menace, exactly the narrative that today's hawkish politicians love to propagate. It's astonishing how easily the film is content to give into what critic Jack Shaheen might call Reel Bad Arab syndrome, in which every Iranian face is either filled with hatred or suspicion. Granted, in post-revolutionary Iran, people were indeed filled with anger and hostility toward Americans, but Affleck's decision to portray this sense of fury—quite vividly evoked despite the director's distracting penchant for whip pans and arcing shots—not only seems increasingly misguided in a moment when mainstream outlets like Newsweek run headline stories unhelpfully declaring the phenomenon of "Muslim Rage," but seems to play exactly into the simplified us-versus-them narrative of the war on terror.
All of which makes the fact that Affleck has crafted what, at least by some standards, has to be considered a first-rate thriller, all the more depressing. Although the narrative builds slowly, the film, which details Mendez's plan to extricate the Americans by flying to Tehran and having the prisoners pose as a film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi B movie, works up to a second half of almost continual tension followed by a truly exhilarating release. As Mendez meets with a gruff director (Alan Arkin) and an expert makeup man (John Goodman) in preparation for the operation, his need for total verisimilitude necessitating the production of an actual script, storyboards, and publicity materials, Argo gets bogged down by indulging in a series of obvious potshots at the Hollywood system. But by the time Mendez gets to Tehran, the film has abandoned its comic pretensions and moved into full-on thriller terrain, a mode that Affleck handles with consummate ease, give or take an eye-bleeding use of shaky-cam.
It all leads up to the inevitable airport sequence whose nail-biting uncertainties as to whether or not the Americans will be able to make their escape before the authorities realize who they are, are aided by a sustained series of cross-cutting that would make D.W. Griffith proud. Perhaps too proud. In The Birth of the Nation, Griffith infamously built tension by juxtaposing shots of "evil" African Americans with glimpses of the "heroic" Ku Klux Klan riding to the rescue. The cutting in Affleck's film between menacing Muslims and peaceful white Americans is clearly not on the same level of preposterousness as Griffith's fantastical worldview. After all, Iranian revolutionaries really did call for the death of all Americans. And yet, by placing the image of murderous Middle Easterners front and center in his film, there's little doubt that the effect is to reawaken memories of the last time when anti-Iranian sentiment ran rampant in the United States and to stir up similar feelings at exactly the moment when doing so would be most dangerous. No one would deny the thrill of seeing the Americans affect their daring escape. It's only in retrospect, when we wonder what exactly it is we've been cheering, that the momentary excitement gives way to a bitter reminder of how little the American mindset has changed.
a memoir by Antonio Mendez The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA, the film’s source material
Oscar Prints the Legend: Argo's Upcoming Academy Award and the Failure of Truth Nima Shirazi from Wide Asleep in America, February 23, 2013, also seen here: Argo's Oscar and the failure of truth Nima Shirazi from Mondoweiss, February 25, 2013
What you won't see in Argo - World - Macleans.ca Mark Lijek, a retired U.S. diplomat rescued from Iran, writes about the real heroes of 1979, from Macleans, February 19, 2013
How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans ... - Wire Joshuah Bearman 2007, also seen here: Wired article
How Accurate Is Argo? - Slate Magazine David Haglund from Slate, October 12, 2012
Pick of the week: Ben Affleck's giddy Iran hostage thriller - Salon.com Andrew O’Hehir from Salon, October 11, 2012
Why “Argo” doesn’t deserve the Oscar Andrew O’Hehir from Salon, February 18, 2013
Twitchfilm/Filmfest.ca [Jason Gorber] Argo and the “Truthiness” Doctrine, October 15, 2012
Flavorwire [Jason Bailey] October 12, 2012
'Argo' and Other Forgivably False “True Story” Films – Flavorwire Jason Bailey, February 19, 2013
Pro-Carter 'Argo' Is Historic Revisionism ... - Investors.com Investor’s Business Daily (IBD), February 22, 2013, also seen here: critique
Arguing Over Argo Roger Aronoff from Accuracy in Media, February 25, 2013
Argo: Truth or Fiction? | Democracy for Bell Diana, March 24, 2013
Why Argo Is Unworthy of Best Picture: It's a Fraud Kevin B. Lee from Slate, February 25, 2012
Canada’s Former Ambassador Feels Slighted by Argo Daniel Politi from Slate, February 23, 2012
Angeliki Coconi's Unsung Films [Morad Moazami] How Pretty and How Cruel
White City Cinema [Michael Smith] also reviewing ZERO DARK THIRTY
'Argo' review — Ben Affleck directs and stars in Iran ... - Movieline Alison Willmore, October 11, 2012
Parallax View [Sean Axmaker] Blu-Ray
DVD Sleuth [Mike Long] Blu-Ray
ARGO - Jigsaw Lounge Neil Young
Sound On Sight Lane Scarberry
Zaki Hasan: The Argo Effect The Huffington Post
Argo: Ben Affleck Helen Barlow from SBS, October 25, 2012
Ben Affleck Changes 'Argo' to appease ex-diplomat Liza Foreman from SBS, September 20, 2012
The House Next Door [R. Kurt Osenlund] Oscar prospects
Washingtonian [Ian Buckwalter] capsule review
Electric Sheep - a deviant view of cinema [Greg Klymkiw] capsule review
Peter Brunette Peter Brunette at
CANNES -- Award-winning documentarian Anne Aghion is here at
Cannes for the first time with another in her ongoing "Gacaca"
(pronounced Ga-cha-cha) series, which records the ongoing struggle to deal with
the aftermath of the genocidal violence that wracked Rwanda in 1994, when gangs
composed of the dominant Hutus, authorized by the government, slaughtered
nearly a million members, deemed "cockroaches," of the minority Tutsi
community. A theatrical release in any territory is unlikely, but worldwide
television distribution seems assured.
Similar in intent to the work of
In the process, complicated ethical and political questions are raised that resist easy answers. As a recent authoritative article in The New Yorker by Philip Gourevich attests, the emotional and moral needs of the victims have basically been sacrificed, for want of a better option, to the overriding goal of bringing the country back together.
Shot in gorgeous high-definition Digibeta, this installment of Aghion's series focuses on several members, two of them victims and two of them murderers, of a small village. Eschewing the easy intensities of atrocity footage, Aghion relies for the most part on interviews with the central figures, a Gacaca "trial," in which the accused and the accusers face each other, and fascinating (if scarce) connective footage of the contours of life in a beautiful country that recalls the picturesque landscape of Tuscany.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the film is the deep wisdom, sad emotional maturity, and even poetry that seems to issue effortlessly from the mouths of the victims who are, after all, only peasants. The direct confrontations are infrequent, unfortunately, but when they come the stakes are raised considerably.
There are two other problems. The first, probably unavoidable, is that reliance on interviews and exchanges during the Gacaca sessions means that viewers end up reading subtitles non-stop for the length of the film, and thus often miss tell-tale facial expressions. The other difficulty, considerably more serious, is that in her laudable decision to focus on the testimony of the villagers themselves, Aghion has failed to provide the context for the Gacaca confrontations, reported in other media sources, that would give us a better sense of exactly what's at stake in the drama we're witnessing.
My Neighbor, My Killer Lee Marshall at Cannes from Screendaily
Neighbor, My Killer David Hudson at
Scott Macaulay Interview with Aghion from Filmmaker magazine, May 17, 2009
Dennis Harvey Variety
Argentina (84 mi) 2008
2008 Festival de Cannes: Part Six Milos Stehlik at Cannes from Facets Multi Media
A wonderfully exciting surprise here last night was the premiere of a first feature by a very young Argentinian filmmaker, Pablo Aguero (he is all of 31), Salamandra. Set in a “lost valley” in Patagonia, a hangout for renegades and hippies from all over the world, the film is as ambitious as it is original.
Alba, a thirty-year old mother, gets out of prison following the end of the dictatorship, and comes to get her six-year old son, Inti. Together they make the long (1200+ kilometer) journey, hitchhiking their way to El Bolson. Here is a world of constant parties amid squalor, animals and bugs, children who attack the houses of newcomers amid which the kind of crazy Alba and her precocious son (among the most astonishing child-actor performances of all time) try to build a new life. The film doesn’t miss a note, and the frequently hand-held camera, never obvious or intrusive, gives the film an immediacy and psychological currency.
I’d go see this film again if it were playing somewhere right now.
India (115 mi) 2012
This tragic confrontation between two brothers, set during the 1980s in the lower depths of Bombay’s film industry, copies the look of the lurid Z-grade films the two of them are churning out together with a remarkable degree of success. So much so, that it may well put off both regular movie audiences expecting a more conventional approach and the regular customers of the genre, who demand a lot more titillation, sex, violence and gore, than Ahluwalia’s film is ready to provide.
Introduced in Cannes as the harbinger of a new kind of Indian cinema, neither Bollywood nor art house fare, this approach, mixing the more doubtful qualities of Western and Indian cinema, has still a long way to go before finding its own voice.
The older of the two brothers, Vicky (Anil George), is a domineering, unscrupulous operator who even tries, unsuccessfully, to skim some of the profits off the mob financing him. His younger sibling, Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), unhappy but submissive, is his errand boy, going out to collect the money from customers, bringing in the girls who’ll drop their knickers (off Ahluwalia’s camera) at the slightest incentive and providing the drugs and the booze which keeps all this industry going.
One day, however, he sees Pinky (Niharika Singh), falls in love and decides to make a movie star out of her. Acting is not necessary he tells her, the look in her eyes is quite enough. He ignores, however, that behind Pinky’s apparent purity there is a long past, well known to his far more experienced brother.
The tortuous plot, whose details aren’t always very clear and spreads over a period of six years, drags in the murder of another sex starlet in which the two brothers risk being involved. Meanwhile, Sonu goes to jail for a crime he did not commit and when he comes out, no one is left to stand by his side.
Looking for all purposes like a badly-lit home movie shot with a restless hand-held camera, just the right approach to achieve the aspect of the films it talks about, My Lovely offers a bleak, sordid but apparently faithful portrait of the nervous self-destructing tension of the world in which it takes place, of the squalid sights, the disaffected alleys and the gutted houses in Bombay’s slums, of the corruption and the brutality of crime and law alike.
But, Ahluwalia has a hard time telling a story of any kind, even as unoriginal as this one is, establishing anything more than clichéd characters or following any kind of sequence continuity. His film gallops ahead regardless of any need for clarity, his shots tied up together in the kind of elliptic editing that may be just too much of an effort to keep up with. One-dimensional performances are not much help either.
Miss Lovely: Cannes Review - The Hollywood Reporter Stephen Dalton, May 25, 2012
Ashim Ahluwalia's stylized drama follows two brothers working in the grubby, low-rent, semi-criminal fringes of the Bombay film business.
CANNES -- A pair of Bombay movie-business slumdogs dream of becoming millionaires in this unusual Hindi-language arthouse thriller, which debuted in the Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes. Shot by former documentary maker Ashim Ahluwalia, Miss Lovely actually started life as a non-fiction project before evolving into a more artful kind of heavily stylized drama. Co-financed with international money, it has the potential to play beyond festivals, although its lethargic mood and elusive story will limit it to small niche audiences.
The action takes place in the late 1980s on the grubby, low-rent, semi-criminal fringes of the Bombay film business. Two brothers, Sonu (Nawazuddin Sidiqui,) and Vicky (Anil George), scrape a semi-legal living churning out trashy thrillers that combine pulpy horror with lurid soft porn. These artfully faked clips provide the film’s most immediate surface pleasures, mini-masterpieces of cheap special effects and cheesy music that echo the scratchy retro aesthetic of Tarantino’s flawed but colorful Grindhouse project.
But Ahluwalia clearly has more serious cinematic intentions here than knowing pastiche, instead luring us into a murky backstage story about a high-risk deal that the brothers strike with serious gangsters, garnished with a side order of sexual exploitation and police corruption. A fraternal feud also develops after Sonu falls for an enigmatic beauty, Pinky (Singh). The already sleazy plot darkens midway through with the sordid murder of a former soft-porn actress, underlining the toxic misogyny of the main characters. A hellish jail sequence, shock revelations and a grisly final showdown comprise the uneven final act.
On paper, the plot of Miss Lovely sounds like a vibrant behind-the-scenes retro-thriller in the Scorsese, De Palma or Paul Thomas Anderson tradition. But the finished article is a very different animal, chiefly because Ahluwalia chooses to tell a potentially lurid story in such a listless and elliptical manner. Dialogue is very spare, with long scenes drifting along wordlessly and aimlessly. The performance are competent, but ill-served by sketchy and cryptic characterisation. A queasy ambient score of industrial drones, clanks and rumbles seeps into every frame, amplifying the mood of creeping unease.
Partly driven by his concerns that Bollywood-dominated India is the “laughing stock” of global cinema, Ahluwalia has striven for a very self-consciously arty aesthetic here, more Gus Van Sant than Michael Mann. This is a commendably bold way to approach material that might otherwise have drifted into routine lowlife crime-thriller territory, but it also drains a rich story of narrative momentum and emotional punch. Miss Lovely sets out to prove that Indian cinema can be as rambling, pretentious and frustratingly opaque as a European art movie. It succeeds rather too well.
Cannes 2012: 'Miss Lovely' Director Ashim Ahluwalia on Indian Cinema (Q&A) Nyay Bhushan interview at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, May 23, 2012
Lesbian viewing and perversity Jennifer Montgomery from Jump Cut, July 1992 (excerpt)
I appeared in Peggy Ahwesh's film MARTINA'S PLAYHOUSE. The concerns I've addressed here about how lesbians see themselves in experimental film were literalized when I actually did see myself in the movies. While my own film is not about a lesbian relationship (it is an autobiographical account of a rape), Ahwesh's film is.